COVID-19 brought with it considerable stress and, as the months have unfolded, more than a few points of contention. Coping with contention is difficult even when not in the midst of a public health …
COVID-19 brought with it considerable stress and, as the months have unfolded, more than a few points of contention. Coping with contention is difficult even when not in the midst of a public health crisis. We are, however, in the midst of such a crisis. We’re concerned. We’re anxious. And six months into it, we’re tired.
It’s clear that we’ll be subject to the whims of the virus for the foreseeable future. We’ll be called upon to accept the many limitations of movement and activities that a prudent and conscientious response requires.
Adapting to COVID-19 will continue to test our mettle. Responding thoughtfully and charitably to the series of concerns that will inevitably emerge—and about which we may hold starkly different opinions—will become an increasing challenge as we move forward through the next several months.
We’re currently in the process of grappling with one such concern; namely, the use of face masks. Unfortunately, our personal choices as to whether or not to wear a mask have come to be seen as political statements and, consequently, they have become emotionally charged. Many would agree, regardless of his or her personal position on the matter, that the resulting angst has not been helpful. Indeed, it is counter-productive—a lamentable and costly distraction.
However, the pros and cons of mask-wearing are not the focus here. Rather, the focus is upon the troubling fact that we find ourselves in conflict at precisely the moment that calls for cooperation. The issue has given rise to a national “shouting match” rather than a national “conversation.” In having done so it illustrates a bigger problem—namely, our ever-growing polarity as a people.
This mutual hostility should frighten us all. We have to find a way to come together. And we can. We simply must recognize that COVID-19 and the other challenges that are before us now as well as those that we will most assuredly face in the future pose a threat not to each of us, but to all of us.
The disagreement over masks will eventually wind down. Today’s controversy passes as we are prodded to stake out our respective positions and argue about tomorrow’s controversy. One wonders if we are destined to respond to each new divisive challenge as though we were in a schoolyard brawl? The answer has to be “no.” The question is, “Will we choose to do so, or will we choose another path—a better path?”
Many of our political leaders and pundits have for some time set a poor example. Their remarks and reporting have often been and often continue to be caustic, even rancorous. Intentionally, or not, this only serves to cheapen the public debate. As we observe the mudslinging, it’s hardly surprising that the tone with which we sometimes engage each other has gradually become more and more strident.
Yet, we have no magic wand or secret potion with which to effect a change in the tone and substance of the more derisive of our elected officials and political commentators. It is for them and each of us to find a way to channel our frustration less contemptuously, more respectfully, with less intolerance and greater empathy.
Let’s not concern ourselves with the national political climate and cable its news coverage. Let’s set our gaze closer to home: our neighborhoods... our workplaces... our sports teams... our social clubs... our places of worship... our community.
It’s up to us, we citizens, to lay the groundwork for a return to civility which will, in turn, make possible a more congenial exchange of opposing opinions. It’s for us to elicit—insist upon—the same from our elected officials and pundits.
We can set the example. We can choose to treat those with whom we don’t agree with the same kindness with which we treat those with whom we do agree. We can choose to be tolerant of others whose opinions differ from our own. We can choose to be patient rather than impatient.
We do this each and every day with matters large and small in our personal lives. Surely, we can find a way to do it with matters of larger social consequence. We simply let go of the binary way of thinking to which we are all susceptible: the sum zero equation according to which we are either winners or losers.
Meetings of the mind will sometimes elude us. When they do, we can agree to disagree until such time as we are able to find a mutually acceptable solution. If this isn’t possible, we temper our responses. We remind ourselves of the right of each of us to our own opinion even as we keep working to further our strongly held views in a spirit of respect.
This is not about surrender. It is not about weakness. It is about empathy. It is about strength of character and purpose. It is about replacing wariness and indifference with trust and compassion.
Edward Cremo writes on behalf of a group, Wayne Citizens in Support of Democracy. This Honesdale, PA local chapter is part of the national organization Move to Amend. Other members of the local group include Pete Snyder, Kathy Dodge, Chuck Heyn and Beverly Beers.