We know that sometimes the impact of events does not fully register until some time after the fact. I had that experience the other night. My wife and I were watching a movie at home and the scene was set in Washington, D.C. The camera followed actors crossing a street and, behind them, The Capitol came into view. I sometimes use the term “gut-wrenching” without really considering it fully. This experience was exactly that. My insides had a sudden, twisting discomfort and the events of January 6th came back to me in all their horror.
I knew that day was to be historic, at least for me, as I received the Coronavirus vaccine at noon. I also knew there was to be a march in Washington protesting what some feel were irregularities in the processing of votes in the presidential election. What transpired that afternoon was beyond the wildest of my imaginations.
Many of us, myself included, were quite ready to put the challenges and pain experienced in 2020 behind us. Though we looked at the dawning of 2021 with hope, I think only the most naïve would have believed that our problems would magically disappear with the changing of the year. They certainly did not. If figures for new daily cases of Covid 19 topping 300,000, and deaths over 4000 per day do not bring that fact home, then the storming of The Capitol surely must confirm this.
Sadly, our Nation seems more divided than ever. Whether looking at our political situation, or the simple consideration of the severity, or even the existence, of the global pandemic, we seem to be of two significantly differing minds. In the latter case, mask wearing is either an essential, community-minded expression of the desire to protect oneself and “loving our neighbor”, or an infringement of personal liberty. Our world-view is shaped either by the “fake news” of the mainstream network media, or by the “conspiracy theory mongers” reported by multiple alternative sources.
It seems somehow inappropriate to qualify the degree of our differing opinions as “Black and White” as racial inequity/inequality figures so prominently in our current crises, but the more moderate “middle ground” seems to be less apparent in much of our discourse.
Flames fanned by the oftentimes poorly, or at least incompletely, considered postings on social media pit former friends and family members against one another, and relationships developed through years of mutual respect and shared experience evaporate in the time it takes to press “enter”.
Though the current coronavirus pandemic has certainly served to further isolate us, if truth were told, we have been moving further away from each other in many ways for some time. In my opinion, while “The Communication Age” has allowed us to converse over vast distances and across international borders as never before, the quality of our conversation has suffered. In less than a century we have gone from evenings of speaking with our neighbors on porches and front steps, to “giving them a jingle” on the telephone, then to a quick email and further to “shooting them a text”. In each step of this “evolution”, the communication came with less investment of effort and greater opportunity for misunderstanding. If, as the linguistics experts say, “80% of communication is non-verbal”, how much nuance and true sharing of mind is lost as we move from eye-to-eye interaction to a place where we frequently speak to each other through the use of abbreviations? In a time where it is increasingly difficult to determine “the Truth”, the need for real and accurate communication between us is more essential than ever. Technology and our electronic connectivity can be such powerful tools to bring us together. For instance, where might we be without “Zoom” calls/conferences and Tele Health during this pandemic? But the same vehicle that has allowed us to stay connected, minimize our anxiety and exercise our creativity can easily be the cause of our downfall.
Staying connected has been the key to our individual, community and national health through our history, and has never been more important and, I submit, more difficult than at this time. Our cohesiveness as a nation is not in the best interest of many individuals, corporations and countries around the world. Whether through misinformation or disinformation from “trolls” or the increasingly frightening possibilities for sowing the seeds of chaos through the use of “deep fakes”, the ability to divide and conquer America is, in many ways, easier than ever. For those wishing us harm there is no need for standing armies and stockpiles of military hardware when individuals and adversaries (foreign and domestic) can penetrate the firewalls of our national security and social conscience. Why spend the time and resources needed for a conventional assault when there is such a ready opportunity to encourage Americans to dismantle the foundation of our democracy from the inside?
The breach of The Capitol on January 6th confirms that we are, indeed, capable of tearing ourselves apart. Discord’s garden has been sown, but its harvest is only certain if we allow it. Communication is the key to our continuance as a functional, mutually beneficial nation that has so often been a shining example to the rest of the world as to what is possible. What we have accomplished is truly remarkable but we are “a work in progress”. We certainly don’t have it right yet. A true patriot is able to see the flaws in her or his country and then attempt to mend them. This is seldom, if ever, accomplished independently, and we know that when we interact with one another we do so with varying ideas and values. When our opinions differ, talking about our issues (preferably face to face) in a manner respecting each person’s right to their own opinion, and then truly listening to what our neighbor says, can give us an understanding of their mindset and help us to adjust our own; enabling mutual benefit.
We are largely a nation of immigrants who, though fundamentally different in many, seemingly insurmountable, ways, came together, pooling our abilities, and forged a singular country. Despite, and in many ways because of, our differences we were able to create The United States of America. We are so much stronger together and we have so much potential. It is my prayer that we are able to truly appreciate our Union and realize what is still possible. Let’s talk about it.