Jaap Bressers taught me what it means to care, and to show it too. His story begins on a Portuguese beach. He was lying face down in the ocean. Moments earlier, he had sloshed through the shallows into the sea; relishing the warmth of the sun on his skin despite the cool water that now reached passed his knees. Standing waist-high, he watched in anticipation as a huge wave advanced, coming closer and closer to him. He dived in deep but too steeply and the force of the water pushed him down towards the ocean floor. His head made impact. He heard a crunching sound as his neck broke. He floated slowly to the surface where he lay motionless, amidst hundreds of people on a busy beach, unable to cry out for help. He had never felt lonelier. 

The salt water seeped into his lungs. He knew time was running out and he was scared. He didn’t want to die; he was only twenty-one years of age. There was still so much he needed to do and be. A second wave caught his body and flipped him over. He gulped greedily at the air. He could breathe again.  

Twelve hours after the accident Jaap woke up in the intensive care unit. He looked around the strange room able only to move his eyes, his body unresponsive to his bidding. He was utterly terrified. He screamed loud and long and imagined his panicked cries echoing through the halls. No one came. He learned to persevere, to scream louder and longer to get the attention of the nursing staff. They were accustomed to treating spinal cord injuries in patients who had suffered diving accidents. They had become inured to their cries.  Jaap would hear the nurse’s footsteps as they entered the room, and out of the corner of his eye he’d see them check the monitors beside his bed and then leave again. They said nothing and made no physical contact with him.

Then Carlos appeared. He was a nurse on the night shift. When Jaap screamed, he responded quickly. He would place his hand on Jaap’s shoulder because he knew that was the one place Jaap still had sensation. He’d tell him ‘It’s okay’. It was those small acts of kindness that made Jaap feel human again. 

Carlos didn’t just care, he cared deeply, and he wanted to show it.

What if we all did that? 

Just yesterday a CEO was telling me how much more connected the leadership team felt now they were meeting in person again. Apparently, some members of the team wouldn’t turn on their camera during the lockdown-enforced virtual gatherings. Others would be multi-tasking, checking their emails, whilst ‘actively listening’ too. I have a feeling that if Carlos was on that team, he’d have his camera on, engaging fully in the leadership discussion, whether it concerned his part of the business or not. 

Why do we care less when we are connecting remotely than when we are in person? 

Last week I ran a leadership session remotely, and we had a wonderfully intimate discussion. The following day I delivered an ‘in person’ session on building mental resilience, and I felt highly connected to each and every member of the audience. I cared – and I showed it, on both occasions. 

We have heard much debate during the past 20 months about the pros and cons of remote and hybrid working. Might some of the cons be eliminated if we truly cared, and consciously showed it in thoughtful ways during every virtual interaction? 

Human beings crave meaningful connection. I agree that it’s easier to feel connected when we are physically together. The reality is, however, that we are unlikely ever to return to PCWW (Pre-Covid Ways of Working). Why not ‘be more Carlos’ during your next virtual meeting by truly caring – and showing it?