How To Strengthen Empathy And Compassion In Times Of Crisis

How To Use Inquiry-Based Stress Reduction
Summary: Empathy and compassion are much needed human values in times like the coronavirus epidemic. By extending our care and concern to others, we help them and support ourselves as well. Fear can isolate us. Investigating the validity of our fears helps us keep calm and make clear decisions.

Sustain Your Compassion And Empathy With Inquiry

Learn how to use inquiry-based stress reduction to strengthen empathy and compassion in times of crisis. During a crisis such as the current global coronavirus epidemic, we generally don’t think about personal and/or professional development. We respond to the best of our abilities and earmark the situations that need improving for later attention. And that is as it should be because first things need to be attended to first. We respond to the task and the situation in front of us. Yet especially in times of crisis, empathy and compassion are needed more than ever. And while we are well aware of that, we still might find ourselves falling short of extending these values to our neighbors, clients, colleagues, or staff.

This is completely understandable as well! We feel stressed through increased demands on us. We experience fear for the safety of our loved ones and for ourselves. When we are stressed like this often we are no longer thinking clearly. We react rather than respond. We believe a myriad of unquestioned beliefs that we are only half aware of, stimulated by mass media’s constant stream of incomplete, sensational information, and we act on that.

Knowing that this is how we as humans naturally respond, we already empower ourselves to take a step aside and notice. That simple act can be as powerful as the difference between being swept along in a tide of screaming and panicking people, or stepping to the side, safely out of range, and being able to assess the actual cause and risk to ourselves with a calm, clear head. The more we are able to do this sidestep for ourselves, the more we will be able to strengthen our compassion and empathy during this crisis and to extend them to others.

Inquiry-Based Stress Reduction

If you are a meditator or follow Eckhart Tolle’s teachings on being in the present moment, you are already practicing this step. In this case, the following process can enhance your practice. Inquiry-based stress reduction is a process that allows us to isolate and investigate the beliefs that have us running with the masses. Some of these beliefs or thoughts we share with others and some beliefs are very personal. On the other side of the process of Inquiry, we have safely sidestepped the panic.

Two beliefs that I have heard referred to repeatedly are:

  1. “People shouldn’t stockpile masks.”
  2. “People shouldn’t panic.”

The process of inquiry-based stress reduction (IBSR) is simply to isolate the thought, then ask 4 questions (see below), turn the thought around, and find true examples for the "turnaround" you found.

Example Scenario: "People Shouldn’t Stockpile Masks."

You can replace masks with the item that gets you going.

Question 1: Is It True?

Of course, it is true! Notice how your mind wants to leap into the story of why I am right. However, limit your answer to questions 1 and 2 to a simple "yes" or "no." Just one syllable. Ask yourself the question, then allow the answer to meet it.

If your answer is "yes," go to question 2. If it is "no," proceed to question 3.

Question 2: Can I Absolutely Know This Is True?

Again, answer "yes" or "no" only. Both answers are equal. What is required is that you are honest with yourself.

For me, this answer would be a "no."

Question 3: How Do I React, What Happens When I Believe This Thought?

In this question, we investigate the reactions, thoughts, and emotions that happen in the wake of this thought. In my mind’s eye, I see people hoarding desperately. Their faces are distorted as they grab and hurry off. As a direct result, I see hospital staff unprotected, ill,  and unable to help others. I feel anger toward those hoarders, I feel threatened by their behavior. My body is tense, my abdomen churns, I don’t breathe well. I’m definitely not going to support these people, it’s their own fault if they are helpless!

How about you? What are the pictures that you see? What are your emotions and physical sensations? How do you treat these people who stockpile masks in this situation (even if only in your mind)? How do you treat yourself?

Question 4: Who Would I Be Without This Thought?

In my mind I see the same people grabbing these items from the shelf, and I feel deep compassion. Their fear, their suffering is so obvious. I notice that I am free from it. I don’t believe that I have to wear a mask (yet) to stay alive. This leaves me feeling deeply grateful. A deep breath happens. I am comfortable in my body, it feels relaxed, open. As the person walks by me I step out of their way, I smile at them or greet them. As I explore a reality in which I don’t believe this thought, I can feel my compassion and empathy more strongly.

Who would you be if you couldn’t believe this thought?

Note that you are not being asked to drop the thought or let go of it, for that is not possible. Just for a moment, imagine a reality without it.

The Turnaround

After answering the 4 questions, we find a "turnaround" to our thought. The basic turnarounds are to the opposite, the self, or the other.

Then we find some examples of how this new version of the original thought could be as true.

The Turnaround To The Opposite

"People should stockpile masks." (Or an item of your choice).

How could that be true?

They should if they feel they need it to keep themselves safe. If they have read the information pertaining to droplet infection, breathing through masks seems like a safer way. If I was mortally afraid of death (excuse the pun), I might also stockpile masks right now.

The Turnaround To Myself

"I shouldn’t stockpile masks."

Yes, that is true, and I don’t. In my belief, the masks are necessary for health professionals. I believe in a calm head, for me. I shouldn’t stockpile masks. However, I can see how my thinking is stockpiling masks. I’ve read or heard about people doing it once, maybe I even witnessed it, but I recount the story indignantly to others and return to it countless times in my thinking.

In these turnarounds, I find out how people have a good reason for what they do (and that doesn’t mean the same is right for me). I also notice how I do, in some way, the very thing I accuse them of. I find my part, my responsibility. Through this process, I can step into my power. I’m able to do my best, stay calm and peaceful, helpful and kind.

Example Scenario: "People Shouldn't Panic."

Is it true?

Can you absolutely know it is true?

How do you react, what happens when you believe this thought and people panic?

Who would you be without this thought?

The Turnaround

Turning this thought around, how could it be true?

People should panic.

I shouldn’t panic.

My thinking shouldn’t panic.

I shouldn’t panic other people?

Inquiry is such a powerful way to stay connected to your truth and your power. In crisis situations such as this, when we are subjected to fears and other strong emotions, Inquiry can be a safe haven. On the other side of our fearful and stressful thoughts during a crisis, compassion and empathy have grown stronger.

Read More: 

  • Read Inquiry-based Stress Reduction (IBSR) efficacy research <>

(IBSR is widely known as "The Work of Byron Katie").