If there is any saving grace to the Covid catastrophe, it is the opportunity to expand our capacity for love. I’m not talking about romantic, feeling kind of love. The love I’m talking about is an attitude.
Throughout the pandemic it’s been natural for us to care about the people who are suffering and dying. It’s been oh-so-much harder to love the people who disagree with us over Covid mandates, policies, and strategies. THEY don’t know — or refuse to believe — what WE know, and WE can’t convince THEM!
Where I live, in north central Washington state, we’ve been choking under a blanket of wildfire smoke for weeks. But those raging fires don’t hold near the heat as some people’s fury over new mask mandates and vaccination requirements — among the strictest in the nation. I have friends who are furious about having to wear masks, much less get a vaccine. I have friends who are furious at people who won’t wear masks or get vaccinated. The beauty of it all is that I have friends! It’s just that some are easier to love than others.
It doesn’t matter which side you’re on: you know what I’m saying. It might be in a Facebook post, or a phone conversation, or an email. Someone says something that pulls your trigger. You feel sick, enraged, and sad. What they just said contradicts everything you believe and know for a fact. You want to fire back: “I have it on good authority that …”
Don’t even try. As a journalist, I spent a career locating knowledgeable authorities and reporting the facts. That’s no longer sufficient. As I heard writer Skye Jethani observe on the Holy Post podcast this week, “Conspiratorial thinking is impervious to facts.”
What’s left for me is to love, to — as Fr. Richard Rohr suggests — “soften my gaze,” to try to understand where that person is coming from. Years ago, when I was just starting in the news business, I interviewed a respected government official who’d suffered a stroke and was unable to speak for an extended time. So he listened. And by listening, he told me, he made an incredible discovery: there are no stupid people.
My husband was also silenced by stroke. He’d already figured out before the stroke that there are no stupid people. He didn’t always agree with but he respected everyone who crossed his path, no matter their politics, education, race, religion, social or economic status, food or apparel choices. No stupid people but some, he would say, occasionally dislocate their brains. He had a more colorful way of describing that condition. Politicians especially, he claimed, were frequently subject to an awkward physical posture when they had their “heads up their …”
It’s a contortion that afflicts all of us at one time or another. So take another look at that person who yanked your trigger. Chances are you’ll see they’re in that dislocated brain position. Your inbred humanity kicks in, and you’ll say with love, “Gee, that’s gotta hurt. Let’s hope it’s temporary.”