Where do we go from here?
I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately. If you know me personally, you know I consider myself to be a “recovering pessimist,” but optimism is hard to find these days, it seems.
Our country is so divided, and that division is apparent at local and state levels, too. Consider the controversial issue of relocating the Confederate monument in downtown Hattiesburg, and also think of how divided we are on the issue of a new state flag. Bring in the topic of the presidential election, and the boiling point for many has been reached.
The metaphorical pot begins to overflow when one adds in the stress of living through an unprecedented pandemic. COVID-19 is an invisible – and highly contagious – enemy, and the virus has killed nearly 200,000 Americans in five months. We seem to be in a national state of shock and uncertainty about the future, and this state has pushed many of us to extreme political positions, outright denial of reality and seemingly unstoppable rage.
This national anger – or collective sense of frustration – seems to be the driving force in our country at the moment. I know that fury is a powerful motivator, and I’ve allowed it to order the steps in my life before. It does bring a temporary sense of comfort and even short-term fulfillment, but it’s a bad bedfellow. It derails forward progress, wreaks havoc on the body, brings ruin to relationships and leaves hollow shells in its wake.
In addition to anger, uncertainty also breeds fear. We seem to be waiting for the next national crisis, and any slight risk – such as the so-called “murder hornets” that were supposedly going to sow widespread devastation earlier this year – sends us into a furor. This outlook is exhausting, but we seem to be addicted to this pain. Think about how much we check the news and social media. We actively seek out bad news, and this constant search leaves our bodies in an ongoing “fight or flight” response.
Pair fear and anger with exhaustion, and a person is in bad shape. Now, think about the fact that our country has a population of 328 million people, and all of us are consistently cycling through these complex emotions while trying to manage daily life. With these considerations, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that things seem bizarre, heated and even sometimes hopeless. We’re all trying to manage what seems to be an impossible load, and this journey can be lonely.
I don’t know the solutions to the many complex problems facing our country, and I don’t know what the future holds. However, I do know that the first step toward progress is realizing that we’re all in this voyage together, and we’re all experiencing the same challenges and uncertainties.
The second step, I think, is for us to show grace to our neighbors. We can accomplish this step by watching our words and by being effusive with kindness. We can have compassionate hearts that are full of patience. This step requires a lot of work, but practice makes perfect, and now is a good time to start.
My opening question remains unanswered, and the answer depends on how well we respond to the challenges that face us. I think that, by recognizing our shared journey and by offering each other grace, we can better navigate toward a positive future.
Joshua Wilson is the editor of The Pine Belt News and Signature Magazine.