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Published on August 19, 2020

Never Underestimate Your Ripple

Man weating a mask handing a woman wearing a mask a box of produce

By Lisa Crawford Watson

Generations of mothers have advised us, when things go wrong, get scary, feel bad, become hard to handle, the best way to lift up and out is to look for ways to help others. Even in the best of times, life can present challenges. But these are not the best of times. In the immortal words of Thomas Paine, "These are the times that try men's [and women's] souls." 

We are trying mightily to live through a pandemic. We are finally paying attention to Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to recognize, as a country, that Black Lives Matter. We are faced with a political maelstrom. Thanks to a freak electrical storm, our hinterlands are on fire. All in addition to the illnesses and issues that befall us in the "best of times."

"Yes, there are a lot of things to feel bad about, and we needn't pretend there aren't," says Suzi Brauner-Tatum, LCSW, with Community Hospital's Outpatient Behavioral Health Services. "Acknowledging legitimate issues helps validate our feelings. Then, asking what we can do, how we can help others, shifts us from feeling stressed, into a sense of empowerment that we can actively help make things better for others."

It feels good to help others. It reminds us, she says, that we are not alone in our suffering, which contributes to a sense of connection, and lifts our spirits, knowing we've helped someone else.

"It is the pebble in the pond," Brauner-Tatum says. "Kind gestures create a ripple, which becomes expansive in its reach. Never underestimate your ripple."

How we help others should be driven by what we're comfortable contributing, and what makes us feel good. That authentic gesture is what will reach the heart of others. It may be the smile reflected in your eyes, while wearing a mask. Perhaps it's handing a bottle of water to a gardener, thanking custodial crews and front-line folks with a Starbucks card, a small "I care" package, or a note of thanks. 

Woman waiving at a person on a video conference call on her laptop

Governor Gavin Newsom, on his website,, has a “How you can help,” button off to the right of the site, followed by "More ways to help." We can build on what he and his staff suggest:

  • Volunteer
  • Reach out to others via social media or a phone call
  • Check on the elderly
  • Donate medical supplies
  • Contribute food, clothing, dollars, school supplies, hand sanitizer
  • Offer technology solutions to those newly operating online 
  • Tutor students 
  • Notice what your neighbors need
  • Drop off flowers, baked goods, groceries to family and friends
  • Send flowers, cards, care packages
  • Call your mom
  • Smile

“All these things count,” says Brauner-Tatum. “I hesitate to tell people how to help because doing what speaks to you is really important. And it doesn’t matter how big or small the gesture because it’s all big.”

In a time when our community and our country have a real need to come together, COVID has curtailed our efforts, shoving us an anti-social distance apart, and masking our smiles. Yet, through cell phones, social media, and generous gestures, we find ways to reach out to one another. Often, an unexpected smile that brightens another's face, a gesture to let someone go first, a 'How can I help?' or 'What do you need?' is all it takes to lift others--and ourselves.

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