This perspective piece is not about COVID, so I encourage you to read on.
It’s a very interesting world we are living in these days. I suppose we could plug in a lot of
artful words other than ‘interesting’, but these days I am trying to pause, and as Ted Lasso would say: "be curious, not judgmental".
Yesterday we returned from a holiday trip to a luxury hotel that we love in Montecito, California. In a time of COVID, and now this Omicron variant that seems to be spreading as fast as a rumor about Kim Kardashian, my family is aiming to be as vigilant as possible. We are all vaccinated and boosted, we wear masks indoors, avoid big crowds, and given that my first vaccinations took place when I was starting chemotherapy last March, I feel the need to be extra careful. I wish it was not this way, but based on the information we know, this is what we do.
It was December 23rd. We had just arrived, and I had booked us a dinner off of the property. We didn’t want to take the car out again – we had rented a very large SUV since we were transporting 2 dogs, 3 people and a decent amount of luggage. We were waiting by the front door in the lobby for the hotel car to bring us to our dinner location, when we came across another couple who indicated that they were also waiting for the hotel car.
The friendly conversation and obvious questions arose, would we want to share the ride, and did they mind dogs. After a few minutes, I noticed that the woman’s mask had fallen below her nose, and separately, my mother-in-law, standing just a couple feet away, asked where they were from. Nebraska. Standing directly behind my mother-in-law, I gently pulled her coat backward, as if to suggest, let’s just put a little distance between us. It stinks that we need to do this when we’re having a friendly conversation with people who don’t know the area, not to mention, I am well-aware that this action was far from being non-judgmental as I set out to be.
She didn’t catch on, so I moved myself outside the door, hoping she would follow. Instead, everyone followed. My husband was outside, and I pulled him in to let him know that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to share the ride, not knowing if these people were vaccinated. He said, ‘Ask them’. Never one to concern myself over being direct, I did.
“I’m sorry”, I directed toward the woman, “are you vaccinated?”
“Well, I don’t think I need to tell you that”, she replied, clearly not thrilled with my question. She then said, “Anyway, he (pointing at her husband) already had it, and I’m on prophylactics.”
It was apparent that they were not vaccinated, I wasn’t sure what she meant by telling me she was on prophylactics (defined: ‘medicine or course of action used to prevent disease’) as far as COVID, and I am pretty sure you can get COVID more than once. The net, we were not going to be sharing the ride.
The whole encounter was messy and uncomfortable, and to me it underscored the division in our country.
That’s the set up for the real point of this article.
We proceeded to encounter this couple a few times over the next couple of days – walking in town, entering the indoor bar at the hotel, and then – I quietly noticed them eating breakfast one morning. Only I had a view, looking down at their patio table as they ate, enjoying the sunshine on what was otherwise a rainy weekend. Observing them being normal humans like any of us, sipping coffee and sopping toast with the last of their eggs as we do with comfort food, I thought to myself: how is it that their lens is so different from mine?
They seemed like nice enough people. The man was a gregarious person from my observation, and he would likely have gotten along with my dad. I am sure there would be many interests we shared. But how did it come to be, that the lens out of which they view the world, and in today’s case – the pandemic – is so different than the way I view things? Where was it that the ideas that shape the lives of these Americans branched out to become such varied perspectives? And what are the ways those ideas continue to be reinforced by their surroundings in Nebraska (community, media, etc.), versus mine in California? What experiences over a lifetime have shaped their views versus mine? Which views are based on fact? Which views are based on opinion or chosen perspective?
I don’t think this article is meant to solve the problem, but rather, suggest that unless we all begin to take stock in these types of questions, instead of just blatantly judging people as right or wrong, good or bad, can we possibly think we will ever find our way to UNITED again?
I came away from breakfast wishing I could have sat down for a meaningful conversation with this couple – no matter how difficult it may have been.
I also came away thinking… I wish Congress would think this way. Doesn’t matter which side of the aisle – both must play to win for all our sakes. Unless we/they/all of us, pause, and find ways to LISTEN with CURIOSITY in effort to UNDERSTAND one another, regardless of outward position, how do we expect to ever BE the United States?
I wrote the above blog 10 days ago, but I’ll add a last thought to because the next thought might be – who goes first? Well, I was not quite 18 when I experienced my first leadership workshop, and it was embedded into my being forever: ‘If it’s to be it’s up to me’. So true. Sometimes, hauntingly.
A reference to pop-culture, last night I was watching Season 4 of Cobra Kai – after
all, I was an 80’s kid. Stubborn as can be, Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso see they share a common nemesis, but are both tormented over how they will combine their diametrically opposed ideas together to form one, unified approach that benefits everyone. The 2 kids who are their closest disciples go privately to each of them, playing to their egos, and say, ‘the bigger man goes first’.
What makes you the ‘bigger man’ (or person)?