Appreciate, yet be empathetic to essential workers

When faced with a worldwide pandemic, everyone is scared. Finances, large-scale events, health and even just the normalcy of day-to-day life is all up in the air. While many people right now are either working from home, taking care of their children or even unfortunately have lost their jobs, there is still a large population that has no choice right now but to go to work.

These people include but are not limited to those working in grocery stores, chefs and employees at restaurants doing to-go orders, those who work for the postal service, all types of healthcare workers, truck drivers and those in delivery services.

These people are often labeled as heroes, and truly, right now they are. Whereas many people are able to complete their jobs from the safety of their own homes, those completing in-person, essential jobs at this time are leaving their homes every day to do what needs to be done and serve others. They are doing important work, and should be respected, recognized and supported because of it.

However, it’s also important to remember that many of these people are scared. Every day they go out to work is another day they risk being infected. Although many safety measures are in place and most employees are required to wear masks and gloves, as well as stand far apart, being out in the open and in contact with others is a risk. It can be easy to romanticize the good work that essential workers are doing right now as service for the good of the community—although these people are helping in an invaluable way, it’s important to humanize these people as well and offer support to them in any way possible.

Using the term ‘hero,’ despite its role in recognizing those completing jobs outside the home, implies that everyone working right now has the choice not to work. Often times, this isn’t the case.

Many people working right now need the money to survive and support their families, but would rather be doing anything but working in these circumstances. Many people are forced to go to work in areas heavily impacted by the virus, and are terrified of contracting the illness and spreading it to their loved ones. Many people aren’t being paid as much as they should considering the state that they have to work in.

It’s important to recognize these people’s hard work—they are heroes right now and some are happy to be serving the community, but also recognize that not everyone has a choice whether to work or not, and some are terrified for themselves and their families.

They are heroes; they are sustaining our society. But they are heroes with human vulnerabilities and fears and unfair conditions that can easily be dismissed when using this rhetoric.

Although there’s not a lot we can do right now to directly help people from not getting infected, we can do our best to support and be empathetic. Obviously, staying in our homes is the best we can do—the more we go out to the grocery store, on walks in public areas, or linger around restaurants, the more we risk exposing the virus to people showing up to do their jobs. With a virus that is asymptomatic in a great number of people, we could be spreading the illness to others without even knowing it. Staying at home is the best way to protect and support these people.

If you personally know someone struggling to go to work each day, offer support. Even just simple actions like making and delivering dinner to their family or being an ear to listen can go a long way in helping people feel recognized. Respecting those out working right now is important, but it’s equally important to empathize with their situation and do your part not to further spread the illness to those already at greater risk.