Taking The Road Less Traveled During The Pandemic

I was listening to two different information sources at the same time yesterday afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was trying mightily to tamp down reports in Bob Woodward’s new book that President Trump admitted he knew before the first confirmed Covid-19 case in this country that the virus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on February 7.  Those comments stand in contrast to the President’s frequent public declarations that the virus was no worse than the common flu and that it was “going to disappear.”

I was also listening to Governor Jim Justice’s media briefing on the pandemic. Justice was sending ominous messages.  “Things are getting worse,” he said.  “The situation is getting more and more critical.”

No wonder West Virginians are anxious, confused and, in some cases, angry as they try to navigate through the tangled web that the virus has created.  Work, school, sports, shopping, travel, our health, socialization—just about everything in our lives continues to be impacted by the virus.

The policies and best practices are often inconsistent.

For example, in at least nine West Virginia counties parents cannot send their children to school, but they can take them to a retail store. WVU has curtailed most in-person instruction, but the football game is still on for Saturday.

These and other apparent inconsistencies prompt questions about how our leaders and institutions are handling the pandemic, while also causing us to question the fairness.  It is a natural human desire to want a level playing field.

However, as President John F. Kennedy said, “Life isn’t fair. It never was and it never will be.”

Of course, there are true injustices that require us to speak up or act, but the more time we spend trying to balance the scales of everyday life, the less time we have to enjoy the benefits.

I was struck by something Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown said in his press conference this week.  He said of his team, “We focus on three topics; empathy, education and leadership.” Notice that “empathy was first—the ability to be aware and understand the feelings of others.

Empathy invests us in how the other person is feeling, thus providing a kind of glue that helps keep relationships from tearing apart.

Those relationships can be very personal or distant.  For example, you may be angry that your county schools are closed, but you can empathize with teachers and staff who are fearful of contracting the virus or spreading it to a loved one with a compromised immune system.

Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt told me on Talkline yesterday that the older he gets, the more he focuses on mercy than justice, and that’s “justice” with a small “j.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to bend life to our will, but we can approach individuals and their decisions we disagree with in a compassionate way.

These are uneasy times, to say the least.  The bandwagons of anger and vitriol are inviting, but the road less traveled of empathy and compassion make for a smoother journey.



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