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Mario Salerno is a small business owner who owns a number of apartment buildings in Brooklyn. Like many property owners, Salerno has recently faced a crushing problem: tenants who now couldn’t afford to pay their rent.

After giving it some thought, Salerno decided to do something big to help:

He waived his tenants’ rent for the month of April, 2020. That’s somewhere between 200-300 tenants, in 80 apartments, Salerno told The New York Times.

Salerno had the following message posted in all 18 of his buildings:

Due to the recent pandemic of coronavirus Covid-19 affecting all of us, please note that I am waiving rent for the month of April, 2020. 

Stay safe, help your neighbors, and wash your hands!!!

Thank you, Mario

Although Salerno declined to share how much money he would lose due to not collecting rent in April, the Times estimated he was likely foregoing hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental income.

“My concern is everyone’s health,” Salerno told the Times. “I told them just to look out for your neighbor and make sure that everyone has food on their table.”

Some may take Salerno’s gesture for granted. “Great that he has enough money to do that,” they might think. After all, Salerno, a life-long resident of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, also owns a gas station and body shop, which his father opened in 1959.

But Salerno’s gesture is more than a kind deed. It’s a lesson in emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. It enables people to practice qualities like empathy, which is essential to relationship-building–and it can even move others to action.

Of course, by canceling April’s rent Salerno alleviated a huge amount of stress on the part of his tenants, and helped in a very practical way. But Salerno’s message also included a call to action:

“Help your neighbors.”

Let’s dive into this simple request, and see why it can be so powerful–as long as it’s backed up with action.


In EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I explain that despite the fact we all crave others to see things from our perspective, it is often challenging for us to do the same. One reason for this is that it takes time and effort to understand how and why others feel the way they do. And frankly, we aren’t willing to invest those resources for too many people. 

But taking the initiative to show empathy can break the cycle. 

When a person feels understood, they’re more likely to reciprocate attempts to understand the other side. And Salerno’s appeal reminds them to pay the kindness forward.

For example, according to Greenpointers, the local news site that first reported Salerno’s story, some tenants who were doing OK financially offered to pay April’s rent as usual. Others “even offered to cover their out-of-work roommates’ rent.”

The moral: When you do what you can to help others, you inspire them to do the same.

If you’re a landlord or business owner, you may not be in a position to completely waive payment for a service like Salerno did.

But you can look at alternative measures to help ease the burden on your tenants, clients, and customers. For example, can you pause or reduce payment? Can you offer an extended payment plan? 

You don’t have to figure all of this out alone. Ask employees for ideas, like this CEO did. You may even ask customers what you could do to help them. Likely, you won’t be able to satisfy all their requests. But you may find you’re able to help in ways you hadn’t thought of.

A community built on empathy won’t eradicate a major pandemic on its own, but it can help improve the quality of life in the meantime.

So, as you try your best to navigate the current situation, remember this lesson from a Brooklyn-based property owner:

Help wherever and whenever you can…and you just may inspire others to do the same.

Enjoy this post? Check out my new book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

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