We can’t always say the right things, but we can certainly try. There are groups of people meeting together while others are concerned about the health risks involved. Individuals in each group might have valid concerns, and people are generally respectful when talking with others. But sometimes…
It doesn’t help to tell someone not to be fearful when they are staying away from groups out of concern for the people they love. Fear is likely not an issue. It doesn’t help to accuse someone of being careless and inconsiderate when they are trying to provide for their family despite difficult circumstances. I get it. There are definitely people disrespectfully walking through stores without masks and loudly proclaiming their rights to do whatever they want. There are circumstances of people letting genuine concern grow into a consuming fear that prevents them from taking basic responsibilities for themselves and their families. We’ve seen a lot of varying situations in the past year, and while the details might differ, the way we deal with them differs less. There are similarities of justifications, assumptions, and disrespect from every angle. And it’s sad, because it distorts our vision of what’s going on. It taints our relationships. It erodes our ability to listen and help and respect.
If we were accustomed to regular gatherings a year ago and haven’t been able to resume, some people have adjusted fairly well. Others struggle. A flippant, “Well, it sounds like the cost of staying away isn’t worth it. Maybe the risk is worth the contact and belonging you’d feel.” It’s not that simple. We can simultaneously be sad to stay away from certain gatherings and be certain it’s what we need to do for now. On the flip side, someone who has decided to take some additional risks doesn’t want to hear, “Well, you took the risks and, in addition to putting others in harm’s way, you must be okay with the potential consequences of your family struggling with illness, hospitalizations, and death.” Seriously, can we not be more compassionate and patient than that? I know we can. We can be better.
It’s going to be a while before we can all come together again, and as we do, we’re going to need to be respectful. People re-entering some of their routines don’t want to be rushed into a lot of reunion contact. It doesn’t mean they’re not excited to see people. It means they want to take it slow and continue being cautious in their widened boundaries. Those who have continued their routines out of responsibilities or choice don’t want to be told, “It must be nice to have been able to continue as if nothing was happening.” That is not true for any of us.
So, what are some things we can say to one another that are respectful and compassionate?
- I hope to see you again when your circumstances allow.
- I miss you yet am glad we can stay connected in creative ways.
- I don’t know the specific pressures or uncertainties you’re experiencing, but please know I’m here to listen as you process the tough stuff.
- Not only have the challenges of the past year changed us, but we’ve hopefully grown just because time has passed. Let’s be patient as we reconnect and learn some new things about each other.
Send a handwritten note. Send a text. Don’t let the only contact you have with people you care about be limited to what is posted on social media. No matter how engaged you are in face-to-face conversations with people, don’t let those circles limit who you reach out to. Consider the people missing from your circles. You might assume they’ve withdrawn by choice. Maybe the retreat is more complicated than you know.
Despite how you feel about precautions, guidelines, and mandates, refuse to politicize your relationships. We too often get irritated at the circumstance, hunker down with people who share our viewpoint, and make some wrong assumptions about people who don’t. We step away from people because we think everyone different from us must be in the same camp and believe what we don’t. We need to build bridges. We need to try to understand. We need to listen. Let’s be better.