You see a fair amount of signs on storefronts and in community spaces “we’re in this together.” The sentiment that we’ll get through difficult times because we are fellow community members, or citizens, or Americans is a great sentiment. I’m not going to put it down. But it’s also not going to be true unless we confront and change how ugly some trends in modern discourse have gotten.
Over a decade ago, when I was writing my science fiction trilogy primarily at Starbucks, there was a minister of a conservative church whom I met because he was using that Starbucks as his de facto office. We sometimes talked about issues. One day I saw him in the lobby of our post office during the pre-election bonanza of election-oriented mailers. He looked right at me and said “I bet you’re going to go down the line and vote Democratic without thinking” (based on his impression, from our sporadic conversations, that I was far more liberal than him). I replied immediately, “I don’t vote for anyone without thinking.”
I had a similar experience today. A parent asked why I would even consider continuing to run a group aspect of our music program this month, given the Washington State Governor’s recent enhanced restrictions. I explained my reasoning, and she said something to the effect “I’m not sure I feel comfortable now with sending my kid to a program where the director doesn’t think the pandemic is real.”
I have never said anything to any client, student or parent about the pandemic being a hoax or “not real”. Like the minister in my prior story, it was assumed that if I thought *x* then I also believed *y*. There was no attempt made to see my real opinion, just a blanket assumption that viewpoints only come in two simplistic flavors. You’re either one or the other.
This is a problematic trend for multiple reasons. It’s demeaning. It’s a conversation stopper. It’s simplistic. It’s probably generally untrue. It may coerce people to actually align their viewpoints with one of two poles.
We’re not going to come to any common ground with our fellow citizens if we put them down (even unwittingly) for not agreeing with us wholesale or characterizing their objections (or even honest questions) about our opinions as evidence they belong to “those people”…i.e. the nutcases over there who (in the case of the pandemic) either a) think it’s a hoax or, on the other side of things, b) are a bunch of sheeple.
How can we be in this together if we are so quick to judge or stereotype?
Obviously this trend of divisiveness goes back some ways, to the early Aughts when I was writing my novel. But in the case of the pandemic, I think specific seeds were laid back in March for how divisiveness could and would manifest itself in our social response to the crisis. Just for one example: Let’s divide businesses between essential and non-essential (which, regardless of what you think about restrictions, is an intellectual construct of endlessly arguable particulars).
We can only even *begin* to Be In This Together if we actually talk to people with respect and as individuals. Ask them why they think what they do and listen. Take their points one by one and ask questions first. It’s fine to disagree and it’s fine to argue. Social issues are really important, and 2020’s Issue (the pandemic) is one of the most important because lives are at stake — both in the medical and the economic spheres. We’re only going to be in this together if we accept that there is a vast bell curve of beliefs and opinions, and that there are going to many that have logical merit that aren’t the same as ours. If we really want to have solutions that work then we have to exit our echo chambers and enter the real world. Hammering cartoon representations of the people we think oppose us with pointless objections isn’t going to save lives and it isn’t going to help save businesses either.
Go out and talk to someone. Even if it means getting off social media and violating social distancing rules. Society is at stake, in more ways than one.