The Cream Always Rises to The Top

As I sat at my kitchen table this morning, extra-large coffee in hand, the idiom ‘cream always rises to the top’ came to mind.

I was reflecting on the many people who have stepped up, often putting their own health at risk, during this time of crisis – the truly heroic first responders; front-line healthcare, seniors and social services workers; bus, taxi and ride-share drivers; grocery store and pharmacy workers; food service and shelter staff; maintenance workers … the list goes on. These folks are out there every day, protecting us and keeping the wheels turning, while we shelter at home.

Aside from the service providers deemed essential, an army of “average” people, have also distinguished themselves: restaurateurs providing free food to front-line workers and the needy; volunteers (one of whom has died) at seniors homes and shelters (both human and animal); manufacturers who quickly pivot and begin producing safety products; people at home sewing masks; those delivering groceries to their neighbour’s doors.

Add to those the many who contribute online and from behind keyboards: the IT Manager at a major bank who offered to help newcomers navigate the Canadian work world; the restaurant owner sharing take-out ordering software with his competitors; people sharing their musical talents on Facebook for the entertainment of those self-isolating; the producers of myriad free virtual workshops and courses (from yoga to languages to machine learning). They could be bingeing Netflix, but they want to do more. They are the cream that has risen to the top.

So, what sets these people apart?

I believe they share three characteristics:

·        Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings and experience of others, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position

·        Agency – the power we possess to act in ways that shape outcomes, the understanding of and belief in our own personal power

·        Generosity – the inclination to give or share, be it food, money, help, time or knowledge

What can we do to cultivate these characteristics?

These traits exist in most of us (to varying degrees). We can strengthen them by examining our thoughts and behaviours and committing to self-improvement:

·   Challenge yourself; examine your biases (we all have them); step outside your usual environment (communicate with people outside your profession/cultural/economic background); practice “tuning in” to others

·    Acknowledge your strengths and skills and share them in ways that will help people and improve situations; decide how you want to show up and take small steps/actions in that direction every day

·        Collaborate – team up with others (even competitors) to improvise, iterate, improve

·    Donate – whatever amount you can spare – to food banks, shelters, charities. Don’t hoard items when shopping. Give your time - call people who live alone, older folks, people who are struggling with social isolation. Share your knowledge

·    If you’re unable to stay at home, practice physical distancing. Help to flatten the curve.We can’t snap our fingers and have our lives return to the way they were. We have to get through this together, day by day. Join the doers. Be the cream.