Conversation Makes It Possible: Unlocking Empathy During COVID

May 04, 2021 5 min read

  • Don Valdez, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at BeOp

  • Introducing the Permutive and BeOp Make Possible Bitesize series for Mental Health Awareness Month

    Two years ago, I was on a C-130 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, sitting next to my best friend, First Lieutenant (now Captain) Josh Morgan. We were wrapping up a seven-month deployment, on our way to Kuwait with our Marine unit. We had the honor of leading a platoon through this mission and outside of our day-to-day, we were focused on our junior Marines’ well-being post-deployment. Truly. Were we returning these young men back to society to be productive citizens? Are they coming back whole? As excited as one is to come back to the homeland after a combat tour, I could have never fathomed the COVID environment we’d be transitioning to in the months to follow.

    Having the perspective of being in Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Norway, and Mongolia with the Marine Corps the last decade and a half, it became an inherent trait to check up on “your guys” and loved ones before, during, and after the fact. As per the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report released by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the average daily number of Veteran suicides in 2018 was 17.6 (the total was 127.4), which is about 13.81% of the total average. When you lose service members to suicide more than to combat then I opine that this is a crisis. I’m not writing anything new. 

    So, what does this have to do with a COVID world and why is Mental Health Awareness important to me? 

    For one, in a combat environment, you wear PPE because there is a potential unseen threat. Second, in a combat environment, you are isolated from your friends and family for a few months and aren’t able to visit your favorite bars or vacation spots. Imagine what happens when a group that was subject to a heightened state of alert in isolation for a duration of time comes back home to normal

    You open up avenues of depression because of loss. Loss of a loved one. Loss of purpose. Take this scenario and open up the lens to view it on a global scale. We all are going through a heightened state of alert in quarantine for over a year together. I will reiterate, together.

    Mental Health Awareness, in general, is important because humanity thrives when we come together. Through the years, we’ve lost the practice of conversation with our neighbors, with our loved ones, with strangers, as it was replaced by digital interaction that had so much promise but ended up being so detrimental. Discourse helps us learn and relate to other human beings; conversation unlocks empathy. I am not a health expert by any means, for me, it’s about empathy. 

    One of the key characteristics of being mentally healthy is having the ability to empathize with fellow human beings.

    In media, in our everyday lives, we joked about the “burnout” of Corporate America. We’ve seen the memes on Instagram, and we laugh because they’re true. And throughout the past year, the jokes have increased, the memes have increased, and yet the laughter hasn’t.

    In the first episode of Make Possible Bitesize, you will hear me say that this series aims to show everyone out there that someone like them is going through something similar and that perhaps, we can learn from each other how to remain resilient. We’ll answer three basic questions with several groups:

    1. How has your work experience been this past year?
    2. What are the techniques/activities you did to stay mentally resilient during this time?
    3. What are things you wish you did better?

    In the first episode, we will speak with finance writer, Katia Iervasi; Earl Pinkett IV, Partnerships Director at Dosh; and Brandon Manni, Programmatic Operations Manager at The Walt Disney Company. We’ll review our experiences in media this past year.

    In the second episode, we will speak with Geoff Ibe, an ER Nurse at Banner Health; Sandy Chiem, Neonatal Nurse Case Management Lead Analyst at Cigna; and Larry Fullard, a small business owner and ER Nurse at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix. We’ll discuss their experiences on the frontlines of this pandemic.

    In the third episode, we return to the media industry to speak with Anna Barangan, Senior Manager of Concert Operations at Vox Media; Sharuq Alam, Senior Manager of Digital Finance at Meredith Corporation and Co-Founder of Good Impressions; and Jack Lopez Accounts & Community Manager at Matter Unlimited and United States Marine Corps Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    In our last episode before the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend, we will speak with Terence Smalley, a Firefighter at North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue; Joshua Maarleveld, a Police Officer at Port Authority of NY & NJ; Nyles Thorne, Senior Associate of Addressable Strategy at Matterkind; and Adrian Jarema, who is finishing his studies in Business Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University. I have served with each of them in the Marine Corps and we will discuss our experiences during this pandemic in our line of work.

    Everyone participating in this series, whether it be on the panel or behind the scenes, thinks this conversation on mental health is so important. I am excited to learn from my friends and I hope that their moments of vulnerability are relatable to our viewers. Most importantly, I hope that these shared experiences give people confidence in tackling this post-pandemic world together. I’d like to thank Permutive, especially my friend, Robbert van der Pluijm, for making this possible and BeOp for creating the conversational platform to shed light on this topic. 

    You can subscribe and find past Make Possible Bitesize episodes on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Here’s to a better tomorrow.