Sunél’s Blog | We should all know how to do this

Sunél Veldtman, | 09 July 2021

While Wimbledon spectators watched without masks, we once again tightened up.  We masked up and locked down, preparing to battle the third wave of the pandemic and the delta variant of COVID-19. Eighteen months into the pandemic and here, in South Africa, it feels like we have made no progress. There are currently more daily infections than at any other stage of the pandemic and there is no end in sight. Even if we had to vaccinate speedily, we would, together with the world, be holding our breath to see whether the vaccinations will continue to be effective against new mutations.

At an industry event recently (on Zoom of course), the mood was sombre, not because financial markets are distressed but because advisors and clients are in distress. Financial advisers shared stories of having lost many clients to the pandemic.   Those specialising in life insurance reported losing whole families and spoke about having to deal with the daily death claims of people they have known and served for years. Again, we face a fresh onslaught of the trauma that this pandemic causes.  There are those who survived by breezing through the illness and those who escaped narrowly.  There are those who now struggle with debilitating side effects of Covid and those who struggle with having lost family and friends. Too much death. Too much to deal with for too long.

The pandemic has asked us to face our own and others’ pain. What is becoming evident is how bad we are in dealing with this stuff. We don’t get trained to deal with people’s pain. We don’t know what to say when confronted with death and heartbreak. Worse still, we struggle with the emotions surfacing. We don’t know how to comfort a sobbing friend, let alone a client. And those who need to cry apologise for making others feel awkward.

Financial Planning 101 didn’t include a module for comforting customers.  But herein lies the problem: it shouldn’t need to have been included in a training course. We should all know how to do this. We should all know how to comfort. As human beings, we should know how to comfort another human being, how to be there for another person. Not necessarily saying anything, not offering up platitudes – comfort is not about silver linings and honestly, right now, it sucks. And we can’t fear tears either.  We shouldn’t necessarily need to have experienced the same stuff as that person; just imagine (or even Google) what it must feel like to that person. Most importantly, just listen with presence.

Right now, we need to be there for each other more than at previous times during the pandemic. In our businesses, families, and friend groups, it’s crunch time for showing up. If we don’t show up now for each other, we may face the worst post-traumatic crises since the world wars. In business, we may lose people to the pandemic, but we may lose more productivity to unprocessed trauma if we don’t know how to support people. It’s the test of our humanity and may even be the determinant of our futures.

I’m taking a break from work and screens for a week in the mountains with my family. The blog will return in two weeks. Cheers.

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