Have we forgotten how to be big-hearted?
It is just me or have we, as a nation, lost our big-heartedness? Our spirit of generosity? This past week I experienced two separate incidents that drove home a disturbing picture of our growing lack of tolerance.
Just before Christmas, a new TikTok video clip went viral that I think captures our current climate of narrow-mindedness. The creator, Lubalin, took a text message thread and set it to music.
In this clip, three women discussed their relationship with an old friend named Caroline. One lady claimed that Caroline had stolen her broccoli casserole recipe eight years ago. She then warned, “Be careful who your friends are.”
Amidst these ladies’ misspelled interaction, the pettiness and irony are not lost.
Why has this clip gone viral? I’m sure Lubalin’s masterful reenactment of this text conversation and hauntingly beautiful musical score are two major reasons, but I also think this clip offers a painful reflection of our country’s current climate.
We’ve just finished a very contentious election year amid a pandemic. We have fallen along dividing lines that genuinely leave me puzzled.
Twice this past week, I’ve seen the same pettiness featured in Lubalin’s video on display, not about something as silly as a recipe, but human lives.
The first happened in response to a set of photos I posted on my personal social media page. I’d taken a walk through my neighborhood. In one of the nearby yards was a visually provocative display. The owners had filled their lawn with bright orange, red, and white flags — the kind used to mark utility lines. Hundreds, maybe thousands, covered every square inch of this small patch of green.
In the center of the yard was a sign that read, “Texans Lost to COVID-19: 27,313.”
I posted three images of this display along with this comment, “A powerful view on today’s walk. I traveled in a different direction.”
Oh my, the reactions I got.
Someone wanted to know if this statistic was the number of people who died “with” or “from” COVID-19.
Another became combative. She wrote, this photo “seems a little gaslightish [sic]. People die unnecessarily every day. Car accident[s] from distracted driving, [to]falling, [and]not being able to get a biopsy because they furloughed [their] doctor.”
I wasn’t trying to weigh in on the current crisis. This was just a series of photos I’d taken during a walk — a common practice of mine.
A similar reaction to one I got about the pictures happened again in a text conversation. In a group thread of condo owners, a heated debate broke out about the veracity of wearing masks, COVID-19 death statistics, and the need for social distancing.
Neighbors of mine became hostile in their opinions. The conversation got so intense that one owner, who had recently lost family members to COVID-19, left the group. Until these texts, I had respected these individuals and had assumed I could turn to them for help; now I’m not so sure. Their lack of sensitivity for his loss disturbed me.
What’s going on with us?
Yes, we are in the midst of a terrible situation. Our national pandemic policies intersect with our personal rights and care of others and probably will have far-reaching effects.
Whether our country is taking the right steps to protect its populace from the coronavirus certainly is up for discussion. However, our response to one another during this crisis is revelatory.
Lately, we’ve not been a very kind country.
Some of you are probably snorting in your coffee about now and wondering why this is news to me. Maybe you’ve thought this for a while.
The person who responded to my social media post knew my son has a severely compromised immune system. He may not survive a COVID-19 infection, having just battled leukemia. She also knew I’m a widow who has suffered catastrophic losses. Why did she need to post a reaction? Was that the most thoughtful thing she could have done?
And what about my neighbors who were cruel during that text conversation? They continued to argue, even after learning another owner had lost family to this pandemic. Was that necessary?
Which is more important? Being right or being kind? Are we at risk of losing our humanity in a rush to protect our rights?
Reformer, Martin Luther, experienced a fifteenth-century re-emergence of the Black Death in his hometown. In a letter, he wrote, Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.
Rev. Kurt Hendel, the Bernard, Fischer, Westberg Distinguished Ministry Professor Emeritus of Reformation History at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, summarizes Luther’s stance in an interview.
Hendel said Love for neighbor is the ultimate criterion that Christians must use as they choose what to think and plan and do — not only during a time of pandemic, but in all times, in all aspects of their lives.
That is an excellent recommendation not just for the religious among us, but for all of us.
So, the next time I am tempted to react, I am going to ask myself,
- Does this comment show consideration to my neighbors?
- Is making this point necessary?
- Is it the kindest thing to do?
- Am I paying attention to the needs of my listeners?
Isn’t it vital for our relationships with those we love and care about to outlive this pandemic? I don’t want to exist in a world that resembles Lubalin’s spoof — one that is small and petty. Let’s choose to live big-heartedly with one another.