“He’s your friend; he’s your friend; he’s your friend.”
I repeat the phrase like a mantra. Familiar words that had lost all meaning in the moment.
It’s late at night, and I’m a few beers in, staring at the latest graphic my friend has uploaded to his social feed. Something about the ridiculousness of our latest restrictions, or how the virus has a stunningly low mortality rate. About how this is all blown out of proportion.
It’s the third post from him that evening. I should leave it alone, but like a moth to flame or a dog to vomit, I keep returning.
My hand hovers over the reply button. I’m just uninhibited enough for a fight.
My wife takes away my phone.
“You’re drunk. And he’s our friend.”
She is, of course, right on both counts.
I return the next day with clearer eyes, though my mood isn’t much better. Overnight, others (whose partners did not physically remove their phones) had responded to my friends' assertions.
A back and forth had developed, these stats versus those, this infringement of rights versus that benefit. All of it feels loaded, tense, and personal.
It’s personal for me, too. Each day I’ve seen an increase of confirmed cases returning to my hospital. At home, I had just received another warning of infection at my child’s school.
The threat that once seemed so distant is here, now.
So is our collective anxiety and fear. Each conversation stubbornly fixed upon the virus, new governmental restrictions, or the uncertain near future.
My social feeds are shouting. Most of the shouting reinforces what I already believe, but occasionally there is a break in the echo chamber.
Assertions that the virus is fabricated, overblown, or the premise for a governmental power grab. All of them are grating and abrasive. All of them, from family and friends.
I respond to my friend’s post. As rationally and empathetically as I am able. A back and forth of our own develops, but after multiple exchanges, we are no closer to agreement.
I change tactics and invite my friend for a walk. My friend agrees. A little fresh air and sunlight could do us both a world of good.
I’m nervous before going on the walk, but we don’t immediately begin arguing our views on the virus or his recent posts. That’s not how real conversations work.
It’s been a few months since we’ve seen each other face to face, so we talk about our lives.
We talk about our partners and children, about our jobs, about how we miss seeing groups of people. We talk about how heartbreaking it feels to find a community to belong to, and suddenly be unable to meet.
We talk about how the use of sanitizer in schools causes both of our children to develop sores and inflammation on their hands.
We discuss what fear does to a culture, how hard it is to connect with another when you are suspicious that they (or yourself), might have a deadly virus in tow.
We consider how keeping people at a physical distance creates a mental distance as well.
We find a great deal of connection. Eventually, we discuss his posts, our viewpoints on the virus and our responses to it. I realize how raw I feel, how personally I took his posts.
There is a lot that I disagree with. We both start at incompatible points and expect wildly different outcomes. We both place reliance on data that we can not, individually, prove and authenticate. We differ greatly on who we trust and whose data we rely upon.
We do not come to complete agreement. But the walk was never about that. The walk, I realize, has far less to do with convincing my friend that he is wrong than it does convincing myself that we are still good friends.
And we are still good friends. Because on that bright sunlit morning, I saw my whole friend.
It is so easy to forget that an online avatar and most recent post on our screen is not a full person. These are snapshots, curated by creator and platform alike, and removed from the context of real life.
Those who study human behaviour have been raising the alarm that social media creates unrealistic, false, and socially destructive images of each other long before this year.
But in our isolation, it can feel like all we have.
Compounding this, we are all desperately focused on a singular, complex and unfolding event that we can’t see every angle of.
Our screens are saturated with unprecedented information. We are discussing new vaccine technologies which the world has never before seen.
We are debating the credibility of data we have never before considered. We are posting our opinions on the collective incurring of debt in the billions.
It’s especially difficult to convey the ‘whole’ of a thing online. A social media post or meme doesn’t often convey the complexity between two or more competing views.
Seeing the whole of anything requires humility. It’s more about dialogue than shouting. I can agree with our restrictions, and still be aware of the overall cost of them.
In fact, I should. We should all be able to live with some entanglement and nuance. The whole of a thing is always messy, complicated, and full of contradictions and compromises.
But so are we. In a moment where we are only seeing a part of each other, it’s easy to mistake it for the whole. We are not our most recent Facebook post or Instagram story.
Remembering a person’s wholeness does not mean that objective truth matters less, or that boundaries are not important. It is simply the generous humility of remembering our common struggles.
It is being gracious enough to allow for disagreement and complexity. It is simply the refusal to reduce someone to their sharpest edges.
And we could all do with a little more generosity, humility and grace right now.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.