Autumn has always been my favorite season. It is a time of change, of new beginnings. As a child, it meant the return to school, reunion with friends, relief from the oppressive summer heat. I loved the smells, the sounds, the feel of autumn. The rustle of wind through the falling leaves, the smell of apples cooking, the taste of pumpkin pies, the calls of the geese migrating south, the chill in the air. I loved it all.
But this is an autumn like no other. We are in the grip of a deadly and relentless pandemic on the threshold of flu season. Within seven short months (can that be true?) we have lost over 200,000 lives to coronavirus in the US and ar eapproaching 1 million worldwide. Over that same period, we have weathered devastating hurricanes, floods, and riots. Fires still rage over much of the West coast. Unemployment is at unprecedented levels and we are in a contentious political battle for the presidency. This is uncharted territory.
We’re all in this together; we hear this a lot. And we seem to agree on this. But we don’t agree on how to get out the situation we find ourselves in. The popular response seems to be to blame each other for our problems. It has become a national pastime. We need only to channel surf or go on social media to find a rabid champion for our cause. No insult, no accusation is off limits. We wear our stubborn allegiance like a badge of honor. Vicious name-calling, unheard of a decade ago, is embedded in the national dialog. Common courtesy no longer unifies us; we are drifting into dangerous waters.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I railed about the corrupt and self-seeking motives of a certain political group, and threw in a few unflattering slurs for good measure. Surely she agreed with my position, after all, she is my friend, an intelligent and thoughtful person. But as her smile stiffened to a grimace, it was clear she didn’t agree. At. All. To my chagrin, not only had my insensitive, and face it, tasteless, comment threatened a friendship, it had made meaningful discourse on the topic impossible. Worse, I wasn’t presenting a reasoned argument, only popular opinions, not even my own.
I am not proud of this behavior. I need to change. Uncomfortable as it is, I need to listen respectfully to the other point of view if I want peace in my family, with my friends, in my community.
But why listen to my opponent? Why entertain her point of view, when she probably won’t listen to mine. And even so, I’m just one person among millions. Perhaps true, but more importantly, being that self-righteous, intolerant person just does not serve me well. I don’t like how it feels.
And who knows, if a few people become open to listenIng and a few more listen to those people and a few more……
Wait! Isn’t that how the virus spreads?