Responding to

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better,
especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain."

William Blake
Things we do almost always look different in retrospect. And knowing in advance how they will look and how we'll feel about them can be difficult.

I remember talking with a friend some years ago about the efforts many people made to hide others from Nazi persecution during World War II. The point of the conversation was that it's easy to judge people's actions after-the-fact and when the outcome is known. Putting those actions in the context of an uncertain future is quite different.

Such is our current reality.

Nothing is certain about when the pandemic will end, or how it will end. We don't know what aspects of our former lives will return and what will be changed forever. What will the economy look like? How will the loss of a year of in-person schooling affect children or college students? And how did our actions help or hinder the outcome? What, if any, difference did they make?

During a panel discussion of doctors from Harvard Medical School last Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.” What he was talking about was both the upcoming flu season and the need for people to continue doing all of the COVID-related risk limiting practices we've been asked to do. He also mentioned the up-and-down patterns of restrictions being lifted across the country and the resurgence of COVID infections, followed by new restrictions and infections going down. "It's whack-a-mole."

“We've been through this before,” he continued. “Don't ever, ever underestimate the potential of the pandemic. And don't try and look at the rosy side of things."

We each live with the consequences of the choices we make. While there are times when that feels like a huge burden to carry, or even consider, the reality is that most of our choices don't have particularly big consequences. But every now and then, when the stakes are quite high and the long-term outcome uncertain, those choices can become far more significant. And just as light itself is invisible until it reflects from something and hits our eyes, the impact of our behaviors can seem invisible until we take the time to actually consider that impact and whether or not it's something with which we're comfortable.

This is self-reflection. It's not judgment or criticism. It's taking a moment to acknowledge our strengths and align our values and goals. By taking the time to engage in a little self-evaluation and introspection, we can consider our choices through the lens of past experiences. Essentially, it's using hindsight to help inform our foresight. 

What are some elements of self-reflection?

One is to keep things in perspective. By making sense of our own and others’ actions, we can use context to help us make sense of an event or an outcome and perhaps better understand our contribution.  Another element is to enjoy our big and little successes. When we reflect on our accomplishments by adding a bit of appreciation for the little things of each day, it can help us make it through the tougher failures. And possibly the most critical element of all is to keep the future in mind while acknowleding the past. We all make mistakes. Taking the time to reflect can help us process what went wrong and help us avoid making future errors.
The real challenge can be to effectively use the knowledge our experiences have given us.

Robert Klitzman, a psychiatrist, wrote in a recent New York Times article, "If you see someone not wearing a mask, do you say something? I considered whether to put on a mask at [a] party and, as a doctor, did so. People glanced at me hesitantly, noticing. I felt awkward." He's talking about his experience attending a friend's birthday party where no one was wearing masks.

Dr. Klitzman is describing one of those moments when we can either act, knowing that our action could have a significant impact, or simply let the opportunity pass. He writes, "Many people hesitate to don masks because of implicit group pressures and concerns about what others may think. Generally, people want to be liked and accepted, not rejected or shunned. They seek to appear friendly and open, not hostile, paranoid or afraid. Yet these deep-seated emotional reactions are now hurting us in ways that public health experts and the rest of us urgently need to address far more than we have."

In reflecting on some of the lessons he's learned, Dr. Fauci commented during his panel discussion, "We've really got to realize that from Day One, you don't know it all. And you've got to be flexible enough to change your recommendations, your guidelines, your policies, depending upon the information."

We're living through a time when our capacity for self-reflection and our ability to learn from our experiences is more critical to our future than ever before. Every one of us knows what's best to do, even when we don't always do what's best. We blunder. Sometimes we forget what we're supposed to do. The pandemic doesn't make any of us any better at getting things "right," but it does amplify the impact of our actions.

Some folks have commented that Kitchen Angels is being too rigid in the COVID prevention practices we've put in place for Kitchenality. We're letting only a few people in the store at a time and requiring that everyone wear masks and gloves. We're also strictly enforcing physical distancing, even when that means customers aren't getting the assistance we want to give them. But at the end of each day, I want to believe that we've done everything we can to keep each volunteer, staff member and customer as safe as possible. By extension, that means keeping our clients as safe as possible. As Dr. Fauci suggests, this also means being flexible enough in our thinking that we can change our minds and our behavior as new information becomes available.

Perhaps one of our tasks is to reflect now on how we'll feel about our actions in the future and use that self-reflection to guide us. When the pandemic is over, I want to feel that Kitchen Angels did everything in its power to protect our community.

To each of you and the entire Kitchen Angels family, thank you for all you do, every day, to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe, healthy and informed.
Before you return to volunteering . . .
ask yourself . . .

  1. Am I able to work a full shift wearing a face mask?
  2. Can I hear well enough from six feet away if the other person is speaking through a face mask?
  3. Am I willing to work a different shift than the one I previously worked?
  4. Can I commit to showing up to my shift on-time and without canceling at the last minute?
  5. Can I adapt to a new environment and new routine?
  6. Can I reliably communicate with the Volunteer Coordinator?
  7. Do I feel safe being back in the public sphere?
  8. Can I maintain appropriate risk-mitigating practices when I'm not at Kitchen Angels?

If you answer "NO" to any of these questions, you're not ready to return. If you're not sure, check with Lauren.