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How to Disagree on Matters of Life and Death

This week, we asked our Facebook followers what they had learned or observed about tolerance during the pandemic. The answers were overwhelmingly pessimistic. Commenters expressed frustration with the new battle between people who want to re-open the country as soon as possible and those who want to extend stay-at-home measures until the pandemic has been well and truly defeated.

They have a point. Social media and talk shows are rife with vitriolic exchanges between people accusing each other of wanting to sacrifice grandma to Wall Street, or on the other side, of being tyrants who don’t care about people being able to feed their families. 

It’s an emotional time. People are dying, and the stories out of overwhelmed hospitals in places like Italy and New York City are heartbreaking and terrifying. On the other hand, people are struggling to afford the necessities. They are watching businesses that they’ve poured themselves into shuttering. They fear a lengthy depression where people aren’t able to support their families.

The harsh truth is that almost anything worth doing involves risk. Car accidents claimed 38,800 lives in the United States last year. Contagious diseases have been killing us long before coronavirus showed up. Yet, we still choose to drive and attend crowded events. As individuals, it’s only natural that we have a wide variety of opinions on how much risk we’re willing to accept. We are going to disagree, and disagree passionately.

However, we have a choice on how we express our disagreement. The choice to reopen and the choice to remain closed both have heartbreaking consequences. Calling someone heartless, stupid, or tyrannical for daring to take a stand doesn’t help anyone. Framing the situation as black and white is dishonest. Issuing arrest warrants for journalists who disagree with you is definitely the wrong approach (you can join our latest campaign to send that message to Liberty University).  

Let’s all agree on three things: 

  1. COVID-19 is a serious threat
  2. Every human life is valuable
  3. Every day we remain shut down increases hardship and struggle 

If we keep those basic truths in mind and approach each other with empathy and compassion, we can have an honest, constructive conversation about how to move forward. We can use this tough time to bring us closer together (even as we remain six feet apart).

Finally, while there is far too much negativity circulating, let’s not miss all the good that’s happening. Neighborhoods are creating Facebook groups and using other online forums to meet local needs while major national charities have stepped up to feed thousands and even set up a functional hospital in Central Park. Restaurants are providing free food to healthcare workers, and distilleries are cranking out hand sanitizer to donate. Certain corners of the internet and TV shows that use conflict to get ratings will convince you of the worst. For our nation’s future and for your personal sanity, make a point of taking the time to seek out the best.