Facing uncertainty, it’s important we remember to exercise compassion


We are living in tremendously uncertain times

At the time of this writing, the presidential election is still undecided.  A few battleground states continue their efforts to count votes, even as legal challenges are being mounted to halt those efforts.  We’re still not sure the final composition of the U.S. House and Senate as some of those races are also still too close to call.  Our nation is, in some ways, collectively holding its breath.

The months and weeks leading to November 3 were filled with tension.  The debates were marred by incivility.  There were concerns about voting integrity and voter disenfranchisement.  Both sides fought hard for the votes they’ve received, at times vilifying their opposing parties.  Vandals destroyed political signs on both sides and there were multiple reports of voter intimidation efforts in the last few days of the campaigns. 

On a more personal level, political affiliations have and continue to strain families and friendships, turning people against one another over their difference of opinion or belief. 

There is no doubt that a lot is at stake in this election; the policy differences of each party have significant real-life implications for everyone.  It was clear people realized this from the record voter turnout in this election.

As if the election weren’t a significant enough source of anxiety, it comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues unchecked.  In recent weeks the positive case counts in many states have eclipsed the peaks set earlier this summer.  For several weeks public health experts have been cautioning that the combination of cooling temperatures driving people indoors, the onset of flu season, and increased small gatherings over the upcoming holidays will lead to a significant increase in positive COVID-19 cases.  The rolling seven-day average of positive cases seems to support this, with many states and the country overall breaking daily infection count records repeatedly. 

What we risk losing sight of when faced with the data each day, is that those numbers aren’t just statistics, rather they are individual lives.  Each of those numbers – a positive test, a hospitalization, a death – represent at least one person who has been negatively impacted by the virus.      

As the virus spreads, there are concerns that more restrictive measures will need to be introduced to fight it as hospitals become overwhelmed with patients. This, too, increases our anxiety. 

Policy makers and public health officials continue to advocate for caution, for continued mask-wearing and social distancing, for increased testing, for vigilance.  At the same time they have the unenviable position of trying to determine a course of action that serves the greatest good for all.  They must weigh the economic costs of restrictive policies versus the public health costs of this virus. All the while they are also trying to strike an appropriate balance of advocacy versus mandate even as, seven months in, many people have grown weary of the changes the pandemic have wrought on our daily lives. 

Between the election and the virus, it feels some days as though our lives have been put on pause.

As we wait, we need to remember that we are each human.  We are not our political affiliations, our zip codes, or our tax brackets.  These labels serve to divide us at a time when we need to come together.  If we hope to heal any of the social and political divisions these past few years have brought to the surface, if we hope to successfully fight this pandemic, we need to try to find whatever common ground we can.  As a country, we are facing what seem like gigantic challenges, but as a country we’ve risen to such occasions in the past. 

Let’s start simply, by focusing on our humanity and practicing small acts of compassion and kindness towards one another every day.  Let’s try to listen to one another, to share, to smile, to say “thank you” or ask how the people in our lives are doing as we move through our days.