Compassion—in a crisis, in the commonplace.

Right now, our world is shaky. It feels as though we are living in a rapidly-changing puzzle with more unknown variables than facts. 

And yet, here’s an indisputable piece of reality: we are coming together in unprecedented ways. Currently, the challenges we’re facing on a global scale have the potential to wreck our collective sense of humanity. Instead, though, we’re uniting, we’re collaborating, we’re connecting from a distance. 

As you huddle indoors to protect the most vulnerable people you know (and the tens of millions you don’t), we want to highlight some TEDxTUM talks that focus on the fact that compassion lights the fire not only in a time of crisis—but also in the everyday.

We won’t sugarcoat it: as we face the next few days, weeks, and months, uncertainty feels like the only guarantee.

But, as much as we can, let’s not cave to panic right now. Let’s take moments for ourselves, allowing our emotions a wide berth in this time of unforeseen parameters. Let’s remember that we’re all human beings on the same space rock, spinning around a ball of fire. Until the fire goes out, we’re all in this together.

Steffen Linßen & Daniel Kühbacher: How compassion goes further than pity

When Daniel Kühbacher met Steffen Linßen in one of Munich’s beer gardens, he was speechless. Wheelchair-bound, Steffen told Daniel his story of falling ill at age 16 with Myasthenia gravis, a disease affecting the strength of the muscles. As Steffen described his disease’s sudden onset and the way it immediately—without warning or permission—took command of his everyday life, Daniel quickly reexamined his perspective on pity and disability.

“Pity creates a barrier in the minds. I am being reduced to a weakness. My handicap overshadows my actual strengths.”

-Steffen Linßen

As Steffen and Daniel point out in their 2018 talk, “How compassion goes further than pity,” we as human beings often fall victim to our own preconceived notions about others. When we see a disabled person, our first instinct is, unfortunately, to assess them—to determine whether they truly need our help with something. More often than not, we take the path of least resistance, reasoning to ourselves that “someone else will come along” to guide the person in the wheelchair struggling to clear the gap between the platform and the train, or help the person on crutches who is wrestling with grocery bags. 

Through Steffen and Daniel’s shared points of view, we’re able to see both sides of the equation and come to a fundamental conclusion: empathy is always appropriate.

Melusine Reimers: Refugees — a homemade challenge

If you placed a few key elements of Melusine Reimers’s personality down on a white background and took a flatlay photo, you’d see the following themes: fashion, Greek mythology, horses, cartoons, philosophy. According to Melusine in her 2015 talk “Refugees — a homemade challenge,” this gathering of items helps to identify the makeup of a person without any type of outward biases—an audience can look at someone for exactly who they are without stigma or stereotype. 

Next, Melusine shows a flatlay photo featuring a smartphone, a laptop, a few books to learn German, novels, a camera, various photographs. Candidly asking the audience to guess which type of person they thought might be behind the photo, Melusine grinned when the common answers were “tourist” and “student.” A moment later, she revealed the truth: the man behind the photo was actually a refugee.

“As a refugee, you’re not seen as a human being. Just a part of a mess. You disappear in this mess. You disappear behind the stereotype.” 

-Melusine Reimers

As Mesuline explains, refugees are all-too-often victims are societal “othering,” the concept which refers to a culture’s inherent judgment of anyone they perceive to be different or threatening. In the case of refugees, citizens of Western countries often dole out harsh stigmas based on deep-rooted prejudices. What’s more: Europeans refuse to recognize the competencies of refugees based on standards where they were raised, rendering them “incompetent” by European standards.

Through Mesuline’s talk, we’re given insight into how we can embrace fellow human beings with kindness while leaving our judgments at the door.

Dominique de Marné: Let’s talk about mental health

At some point in life, you’ve probably heard the analogy about the oxygen mask in the airplane: secure your own before helping someone else with theirs. While this is good advice, it can seem a little one-sided at best, and paint a picture of stark self-indulgence at worst. In her 2019 talk called, “Let’s talk about mental health,” Dominique de Marné shows us that we truly can’t fill someone else’s cup until we, ourselves, have something to give.

“Like a tumor that breaks the body, ill mental health can destroy a person to death.”

-Dominique de Marné

Dominique details her own spiral through the darkness of alcoholism, depression, self-harm, a long-undiagnosed mental health condition and exhaustive battles with thoughts of suicide. After standing up to her inner demons after ten years of fighting, Dominique was able to take control and heal from within—with therapy, receiving a diagnosis, understanding that a “dead mental health battery” was the root of the problem, Dominique got a second wind. 

Now sober and in the driver’s seat of her own mental health, Dominique doesn’t want anyone to have to fight the battle alone. In December 2019, just days after delivering her talk on the TEDxTUM stage, she opened Europe’s first mental health café—a safe haven for those who need support, friendship, and a place to recharge their mental batteries when times get tough. 

Through Dominique’s steadfast efforts to prevent suicide, self-harm, and depression on a continental scale, she shows us that self-care, truly, isn’t selfish.