I used to be a news junkie. Since COVID struck, I cut back for a number of reasons. Some practical, like there isn’t enough time for news radio on my daily commute between my bedroom and home office. Some philosophical, like how much does the news inform my daily decisions or make my life better.
In spite of my dwindling news consumption, it seems that I’m always hearing or reading contradictory stories, sometimes in the same newsfeed. Here are a few recent examples:
- The Wall Street Journal’s headline on November 23, 2020 declared “Dow Eclipses 30,000 for First Time,” while the page 2 headline read, “Consumer Outlook Dims as Virus Surges”.
- “New Home Sales Leap to Highest in Nearly 14 Years” and “1 in 3 Adults Having Trouble Paying Expenses”.
- “Due to COVID, 59% of Americans feel increased financial uncertainty,” and “78% of Americans plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts than last year”.
- And perhaps most shocking, “COVID patients deny the virus with last dying breath”.
All of these story lines reflect the uncertainty and over-wrought emotions we experience living through the pandemic. While my logical self says these contradictions are hard to accept, my intuitive self says that it all makes sense.
- Even though “we’re all in this together,” we’re not equally affected. Black, Hispanic, lower income, and less educated Americans suffer disproportionate financial distress and loss of life.
- During times of stress, people turn toward retail therapy for diversion and stress release.
- As COVID has become a partisan issue, people allow ideology to override evidence contrary to their beliefs.
Finding Common Ground
Race, class, education, personal stress levels, and political affiliation all affect our perception and experience of the world we live in. One of my black neighbors recently had “the talk” with their 11-year-old son about the potential dangers he faces due to racism and police bias, while my white neighbors are already talking to their kids about college.
Each of us sees the world through a unique lens ground by our personal background and experiences. As a result, we are Christian, Muslim and Jew: urban, suburban, and rural; rich, poor and middle class; illiterate, literate and highly educated. The challenge, as I see it, is accept these differences – because they’ll always be with us — and to realize that it’s not “my way or the highway”.
There are many righteous paths to follow, even when they veer from our own. As we expect others to respect our choices and not impose their beliefs upon us, we must treat them in kind. Just to be clear, the goal is to accept and respect differences without having to understand, agree, adopt or approve of them.
This is not easy work. Perhaps this takes a takes a leap of faith, because our logical mind usually insists on taking sides. Or perhaps it means setting ego aside long enough to meet others where they are rather than where we’d like them to be.
- Can we talk to others with the idea of learning about them and their beliefs rather than persuading them to change their minds?
- Can we listen with interest, ask open-ended questions, and receive answers with an open heart and mind, unconcerned about how they’ll jive with own worldview?
- Can we accept the sincerity of their beliefs, even when we disagree with their presentation or interpretation of the facts?
- Can we critically examine our own beliefs, question their validity, and allow them to evolve in response to new knowledge and information that we receive?
- Can we decouple our self-identity and belief system enough so that when others question our beliefs we don’t feel under personal attack?
- Can we set aside our self-interests and differences in the interest of a greater good?
As the above headlines illustrate, while we’re all in this together, we’re not all experiencing COVID the same. Differences in race, education, opportunity and wealth will continue to divide us. We have a hard time agreeing on the facts, much less their interpretation and significance. We are motivated by our own perceived self-interests.
In spite of all the division, most of us agree on the fundamentals: we want a safe place to live, raise and educate our children. We want to earn a living wage for the work we do. We want to be treated with respect. We want our voice to be heard. And we want access to quality education and health care
Though President-elect Biden has set a new tone by proclaiming, “there will be no red states or blues states, just the United States of America,” it will take more than rhetoric to heal our deeply divided nation. Undoubtedly, Washington pols will continue to wrangle and toss mud, yet I’m hopeful that a few will reembrace the spirit of compromise as a way forward.
I wonder if the public, along with the next administration and congress can start to accept the contradictions that are woven into the fabric of our society as a first step toward common ground, where we can forge agreement over the things that matter most.