Even before the pandemic, our society’s mental health was not always strong, and since the onset of the pandemic, it’s gotten worse.
What happens when we have a society of people interacting with one another in a state of stress, anguish, anxiety and depression? The results are not so positive. We do sometimes take it out on one another, and that’s unfortunate. Our interactions can be unsatisfying at best and use your imagination for the worst. At the same time, the pandemic leads to isolation, yet now is a time when we need community. How can we manage within these constraints?
If we have the mental bandwidth for it, one way to overcome isolation is to help others. This may be counterintuitive, but when we reach out to others, we, in fact, may be the beneficiaries. We feel good about our actions, and when we transmit good feelings to others, it can get passed on, like a toppled glass of water, spreading a puddle of goodness everywhere. So, call a friend, call a senior or call a family member who lives alone. Bake a cake and drop it at someone’s doorstep. See how these actions make you feel. Get reaching out to others into your schedule once a week.
If helping others is difficult for you at this time, there is something else you can do, which is to dan l’chaf z’chut, Pirkei Avot 1:6, “judge others as meritorious,” or, in modern parlance, give people the benefit of the doubt. Before going into any interaction, personal or professional, say to yourself, “the person with whom I am interacting could be in a tough spot; let me judge their intentions for good. Let me be kind, gentle, and patient with them.” Don’t be afraid to ask God to assist you with this task – it could be hard! The payoff, however, will be enormous. Take time to reflect on how this mindset benefits your interactions.
I do not think any of us have solutions for the pandemic or some of the other big issues our world faces. They are too complex. But we can answer for our own contributions towards lifting others and by treating people with care. In doing so, we will even feel positive reverberations in our own mental state. And in a ripple effect, each person doing their part will make a positive impact in our community. May we see better days ahead and may we what we can to help someone have a better day.
Rabbi Hannah Wallick is vice president of outreach, Israel and overseas for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and spiritual leader for Moses Montefiore Congregation of Appleton.