Another pandemic

I recently heard an NPR interview of a school board member bemoaning the agitated climate at their meetings. He had served on the board for many years on and off so had quite extensive experience of serving during diverse societal times and over a wide variety of comings and goings of board members, as well as during the leadership of different political parties.

In his experience, he had never served at a time when the board was so divided as now, often paralyzed to inaction. Many of the same issues that seemingly only affected their own school or school district on topics previously easily reaching consensus now suddenly seemed controversial. How could there be so much disagreement about required school supplies, after school programs, testing concerns? Even if there was disagreement, the conversations were way too heated. He was so saddened that their discussions had become so polarized. An atmosphere of divisiveness had descended on their meetings.

One thing I think we can all agree upon is that no one thinks Covid 19 was a good thing to happen to humanity. (Well, a side bar to that is that I’ve just learned that mRNA research for cancer treatment had been tabled for decades as a possible alternative to whole body chemotherapy. As a result, however, of the success of mRNA on the Covid spike protein, studies are now underway to move ahead on this cancer research. Discussion for another day.)

Back to the point: aside from good that may come from horror, what are the most important lessons we are to learn from misfortunes such as a pandemic that affect all of us? Will we be better prepared for the next pandemic, or societal crisis, whether in our lifetime or in the next generation’s, based on how we, as a society are handling this one? Have we grown as individuals and as a society?

Even if one didn’t catch Covid, living as we have for the past year and a half has changed all of us. Living in some cases alone, or at least with less social interaction has created consequences which we are only beginning to understand. The effect on our children probably won’t be known for decades. Lack of meaningful social interaction can have many repercussions. We may have strengthened our nuclear family units. Alternatively, with such closeness over such an extended period of time, we may have strained already fragile family relationships. Some may be feeling more depressed, more disconnected from their fellow brothers and sisters. The lack of community has taken its toll even if we at Ruach Israel have been blessed to be able to be together in community. Yet we have not been able to do so without great effort.

So what have we learned? What would HaShem have wanted us to learn? It is the answers to these questions that concern me, at least for where we are on the journey so far.

The school board member’s experiences may indicate less personal regard for the opinion of others, less ability to see the other side, understand, compromise, or at the least be respectful. I, too, see this situation in conversations I am in and know of this growing insensitivity regarding others in our circles as well as in the news. This lack in us may be somewhat the result of living more isolated lives, or may also be reflective of this divisive time in our society, generally, each circumstance fueling the other to a state of disequilibrium in our interactions with others. I can’t tie the inception of this trend to Covid, but it surely didn’t help. Perhaps the consequences of Covid accelerated the budding divisiveness and further nurtured it by our having to literally socially distance for months. Whatever the reason, we live in ever deepening divisive times which at least societally, show no sign of lessening.

So as life deals us more difficult challenges we are given the choice of how to act, and react. We will not be in control of the many proposed solutions. Yet we are always able to choose to be in control of our reactions, and our actions toward others. As our personal welfare is at stake, and as we have less ability to practice how to interact well with others, we are even more challenged to act lovingly. The stakes are high for ourselves, but moreso, for our learning to love others selflessly.

When controversy arises, is it possible to listen to and influence others by thinking just of the situation at hand rather than be societally-influenced at that moment? In thinking of the topic in those terms, you may be more able to act lovingly. How can I work to feel this situation from the other person’s perspective before I respond? How can I make the situation easier for the other person who is also suffering, without compromising my principles? In this case, is bending my view for the other the more loving thing to do than be right? If I’m wrong, what’s the worst that can happen? If they’re wrong, what’s the worst that can happen? Are my principles more important than loving another?

Perhaps if we tried to influence each other as well as learn, ourselves, person by person, from the bottom up, instead of carrying with us into these conversations the divisiveness that pervades society from the top down, we would be moving forward toward where we should head. School board meetings would be just that, a forum for constructive discussions about that school and school district’s educational needs.

So when the next pandemic strikes, or even events of a lesser negative nature, have you grown your ability to listen respectfully, and try to understand, the views of others? Have you put yourself in their shoes? Granted, this is much harder to do when we feel strongly and with so much at stake, yet perhaps the most important lesson we are to be learning.

Keep on loving.

Shabbat shalom.

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