Essay: Coronavirus gives us a chance to rebuild society together. Let’s not blow it.

May 8, 2020

Originally published in USA Today

Debilyn Molineaux, USA Today

aWeakened tolerance for “others” and the belief that only “our people” can be trusted has stained America’s social fabric in the past 40 years. With COVID-19, our frayed society has a choice: Do we continue to tear ourselves apart? Or do we weave ourselves together to become a tolerant, empathetic nation? 

For their own benefit, politicians, social media influencers and the news media have stoked our growing inability — or unwillingness — to see others who are different from ourselves as legitimate in their beliefs and concerns.

Liberal friends slap labels and assumptions on conservatives. Just stop it! Let’s make space for conservatives to explain themselves and their views without being called names like racist or brain-washed. 

Conservative friends defend the president regardless of undisputed facts. They recite conservative talking points and dismiss information that should be considered. They exude a strong sense of victimhood about “those unhinged liberals” who “won’t give them or the president” a fair shake.  Just stop it!

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Do not miss the point. We all have been duped to accept disinformation and propaganda that confirm what we want to believe. We ignore, to our peril, the legitimacy of each other’s concerns.

A small globe, featuring a map of the world and wrapped in a small mask labeled Coronavirus,  rests in an outstretched pair of hands.

As we face a global pandemic and supplies run short, it’s easy to blame federal and state authorities for not being better prepared. And protesters in states across the country, in calling for public health orders to be lifted, have blamed governors for following health officials’ recommendations.

But the blame game is a literal death sentence fueled by polarization.  

Citizens hold the power

The power of the United States has always resided in its citizens who show up and participate in this great experiment of self-governance. How you participate is as important as what you advocate for. Do you connect with and care for your neighbors? How do you feel about them? Do you contact your elected officials and have a relationship with them or their staff? How do you feel about them? Do you vote? How do you feel about voting?

Our feelings are wrapped up in how we participate; we can participate with an open heart or an angry shout. The stronger our relationships with one another, the more resilient and able to handle conflict we become.

It’s a teachable moment, if we listen

In this moment of global uncertainty, will you think only of yourself, your family and your political ideology? Or will you use our collective challenge as an opportunity to see the humanity of your neighbors and fellow Americans, regardless of their beliefs or color of their skin? This is a teachable moment, if we are willing to learn.

As the crisis passes, many people will try to return to our pre-pandemic life. The pre-pandemic society was good for some and failed others. If we truly love one another, we will work together to make the post-pandemic world a better place for all of us. 

Not simply to create some kumbaya moment of harmony, but to protect our survival as a species.

This pandemic asks us what we will become. Let us become better humans, together.