Our Blog

Perspective and Empathy

Monday, June 14th, 2021

by Melanie VanderPol-Bailey, LSW


A speaker at a Law Enforcement conference I attended several years ago made a key point that has stuck with me.  He talked about our experiences and our perspectives, noting just how different they can be from one person to the next.

For example, imagine three individuals standing in front of a residence completely engulfed in flames.  One is the homeowner who had recently depleted her savings account to pay off the mortgage.  Imagine how she feels as she watches her home turn to ash.

A second person is the crew chief in charge of the firefighters there to douse the flames.  They are a focussed group intent on a few key things: douse the flames, save anyone needing to be saved from the fire, and keep the crew safe while fighting the fire.  

The third individual is the pyromaniac (it was a law enforcement conference!) who started the fire just for the thrill of it.  It’s a twisted perspective, but a perspective nonetheless. 

Each of these three individuals bring a completely different perspective to the experience.  Each person has a completely different connection and response to the fire.  Our awareness of these different perspectives shapes how we experience these different people, and helps us exercise empathy that fits the moment and the person.

Brene Brown has a wonderful YouTube video (Brene Brown on Empathy, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw) which demonstrates how “empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.”  How often do you stop to think about the other and their perspective?  How often do you do your best to climb into their shoes?


This past year has impacted each one of us, and each individual experience has been different.  The same is true for communities.  Armour, Platte, Sioux Falls, Omaha, New York - each community has had and is having a different experience.  Or think for a moment about the differences in your country in contrast with a country like India where losses continue at a very rapid and terrifying rate.

Some families have lost several members to the virus, while others have escaped the virus altogether.  Front line health care workers and nursing home staff have had to experience loss, trauma, and death at a rate never seen before in their lifetime.  Some have lost business, and some have profited.   Nursing home residents went months and months without visitors. Many loved ones died alone, without family by their side.  Other families experienced gratitude for increased shared time and being home together.  We have all been impacted in our own unique ways.  Being empathetic requires us to connect to our own feelings and sit with the challenges that someone else may be experiencing. 


Getting back to “normal” is going to be hard for some.  Reconnecting may not be easy.  Our older generation has been hit hard by this pandemic.  Both physical and mental health have taken a hit due in large part to the death of so many elders and the isolation that responding to the pandemic required.  Consider investing some time and energy in connecting with the elders in your family and community.  Help them rediscover some healthy rhythms in their lives.

We also have many people who may be silently struggling with mental health issues after contracting the virus.  Some studies suggest that as many as 20% or 1 in 5 COVID-19 patients developed a health issue like depression, anxiety, or even dementia within three months of testing positive with COVID.

Additionally, many front line workers and first responders are experiencing symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) such as increased anxiety, irritability, sleep disturbance, unpleasant dreams, and so on.  They have consistently risked their lives for the rest of us, and they are paying a personal price for their dedication to our welfare.  Consider their perspective and take time to thank them for their service to you and to the community.

Our country has reached the milestone of over 600,000 who have now died from COVID and COVID-related illness.  It has been a devastating time in our history.  I think about the myriad of individuals who are mourning.  So many have lost loved ones, and they are now trying to find their way forward as best they can.


If you are struggling to reconnect, or silently struggling with PTSD, grief, anxiety or depression, you are not alone.  At River Counseling and Sioux Falls Psychological Services we meet you where you are, offering hope.  You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.