COVID-19, Empathy and Dialogue in the Dark

With the Covid-19 pandemic monopolizing the world's attention, one word came to be used several times: EMPATHY. Besides it, collaboration, solidarity, unity and many others also have a prominent place in newspaper articles and quotes. These words are the basis of Dialogue in the Dark for the past 30 years. You can better understand the interrelationship in the article.

Portrait of Luiz Calinas

Almost 100 thousand people visited the Dialogue in the Dark Exhibition in our 2015/16 events in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and almost 3 thousand participated in the Dialogue in the Dark Workshop, held for various companies and audiences. Counting the previous assemblies of the exhibition in Brazil and the Brazilians who participated in visits abroad (Hamburg, Frankfurt, Holon, among others), we can think that more than 200 thousand people in the country have already been exposed to Dialogue in the Dark, in a way or other. In the world, there have already been around 10 million people, in more than 40 countries.

All of these people know that one of the most used words in Dialogue in the Dark is EMPATHY. After all, you are in total darkness, together with a visually impaired person acting as an exhibition guide or a workshop facilitator, who lives this reality every day. At that moment, you are out of your comfort zone, being helped by this guide or facilitator, being able to understand what that person's life is like. You can ‘feel the other’s needs’.

In fact, this is a definition that we really like to use to define empathy. The best known definition is ‘put yourself in the other’s place’. It is very difficult to put yourself in the other's shoes or feel what the other is feeling, as each individual has his/her own particular baggage, past experiences, own expectations, perspectives in relation to events and personality. On the other hand, you can understand what the other needs at that moment and, sometimes, the other can verbalize his needs and allow you to help. In many situations, help can be just a word of comfort or a hug.

Other keywords of Dialogue in the Dark are:

COLLABORATION: We live in societies and we need to collaborate with others, understanding the needs of each person, both in personal and professional life. In our visits and workshops, we have always explored the fact that activities are completed properly when there is collaboration between group members.

TRUST: You need to trust other people, be they family, colleagues, friends, and anyone you are interacting with. When you stop trusting, you usually tend to stop collaborating, seeking individual rather than collective responses. In Dialogue in the Dark, trust means accepting the help of people with disabilities that you, outside that environment, can (and should) help, as they have a number of challenges in the simplest everyday tasks. They may not even need your help, but offering help is always a positive attitude.

RESPECT: Mutual respect is always needed. Respecting the other means accepting differences and understanding that there are different opinions, different ways of seeing the world and different solutions for each problem. Diversity is what makes the world dynamic and plural. You need to respect all people, regardless of what they are or have. At home, respect your parents, your brothers or your children. At work, respect the directors, your peers, the security guard and the gardener. Respect them all equally. In Dialogue in the Dark, each visitor or participant needs to respect the others, both members of their groups and the person with disabilities, who is their point of support. In other words, the person who is often seen as less capable is the one who is the leader in that space.

OVERCOMING LIMITS: We all overcome challenges on a daily basis, in all environments in which we live, from small details to big problems. People with disabilities have an additional challenge. In the case of visual impaired people, it is the lack of vision. As I mentioned above, each person perceives a certain situation according to their own understanding. The same occurrence can be a huge problem for one person and a minor issue for another. We need to respect this diversity and empathize with each other to overcome adversity. In the exhibitions and workshops, many people feel the darkness as paralyzing and distressing, especially at first, when entering the rooms and feeling the lack of control, the helplessness and the dependence on the other. However, the absolute majority of people cross this barrier and participate in the whole experience, overcoming their limits.

Dialogue in the Dark is exactly a metaphor for problems that can arise for all of us and we think: “And now, I am in the dark”. It could be a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child, a new job, a new boss, a layoff. Or a pandemic.

And in this pandemic moment, we are hearing all the words mentioned, coming from the most diverse people. What Dialogue in the Dark has shown around the world for over 30 years, always sending a positive message that the disabled person can have a full and happy life, despite the difficulties, started to be exposed by Covid-19. In other words, in times of difficulty, people generally come together and try to do good to others. A Google search with the words Coronavirus and Empathy yields more than 70 million results in English (Note: The original article points 18 million of results in Portuguese).

In an article published in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Candido Bracher, president of Itaú Unibanco, one of the biggest banks in the country said: “The world is asking how the Covid-19 pandemic will change our lives. In at least one respect, I have no doubts. We will come out of this difficult moment more solidary and aware of our social role. The fight against the new Coronavirus has highlighted the need for collaboration and unity between individuals, companies, non-governmental organizations, multilateral institutions and the public sector.”

For the historian, professor, writer and speaker Leandro Karnal, “The period of social isolation, necessary during the pandemic of the new Coronavirus, should be seen as an opportunity to learn and empathize. It is time to know we are not really isolated. Being sensitive to each other, practicing sympathy and understanding that everyone depends on each other is essential to overcome the crisis.”

Gilberto Figueiredo, current Secretary for Health of the State of Mato Grosso, published on the State Government website: “I believe that empathy is the only way out of situations that expose an individual or a population to vulnerability.”

The question that remains for me is: What will be the real importance of Dialogue in the Dark in this new post-pandemic world? For more than 30 years, Dialogue in the Dark has made people exercise and practice empathy, besides feeling their own weaknesses. It was a pioneer, when there was still no talk of empathy, diversity and inclusion. From now on, I hope it will be even more important, as it will remind you of the need for empathy, collaboration, trust, respect and overcoming limits.

I would love to hear from readers.

Luiz Calina
Dialogue In The Dark Brasil