Face to Face

Everyone faced a nearly innumerable amount of challenges in 2020, most of which have carried into 2021, and most due in no small part to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.  The one which is bemoaned almost universally  (I say almost because my brother has actually enjoyed this part) is the disappearance of face-to-face interaction.  For even the most introverted of persons, those who at the start of Covid shutdowns were saying “this is what I’m talking about!” the never-ending grind of elbow bumps, masks, Zoom calls, remote work, online church, gym-in-the-garage, FaceTime, contactless meal deliveries, etc. began to take it’s toll as the days turned to months turn to…almost a year now.  And for those who have known the pain of losing loved ones they couldn’t be with in their final hours, or those who endured the prolonged separation of a spouse in ICU battling the disease, the joy of simply seeing another human being in the flesh, even from a distance of 6 feet…well, who among us ever imagined we’d be so moved by something we’ve taken for granted since…forever?

This post, however, is not about the pain of separation or the statistics surrounding isolation due to the pandemic (for what it’s worth, I think we’ll be seeing those long-term effects for many years to come).  Rather it is about something I think is tangentially related to the shut-down, something which has been simmering on the back burner for years, but the pandemic brought to the forefront: the replacing of face-to-face interaction with online communication.  Yes, I get the irony of these words being written on a laptop, posted to a blog which you likely got to by clicking a link on a social media site.  As Doc Holliday famously said in the cinematic masterpiece  Tombstone: “My hypocrisy knows no bounds.”

Chances are as the pandemic tightened its grip on your life, as the things you took for granted were no longer options, you took to the interwebs, specifically to social media, for connection and for news (of family, of friends, of what was going on in the wider world).  And chances are as the dumpster fire known as 2020 marched on, as the threads of our society seemed to unravel all around us, as our nation became more and more polarized (or maybe just came clean as polarized?) you couldn’t believe your eyes.  People you loved, perhaps even family members, folks you thought you knew seemed to be completely different.  Maybe you even had the thought “they have lost their ever-loving mind.”  

I sure did. 

I unfollowed or hid more people than I’d care to admit as 2020 dragged on.  Yet, for some reason, I didn’t get off social media.  I just keep curating it into what I wanted to see and hear, or perhaps it was curating a particular silo just for me?  Pretty sure there’s truth in both of those assumptions.  I would wake up at night with my jaw clenched, teeth hurting, hands in a fist, thinking about something I’d seen or read online, something someone I cared about had posted or reposted or re-reposted. After the election, it got even worse. 

And suddenly it wasn’t social media that was the problem, no, it was THIS social media app, or THAT news channel, and so, many decided to flock even father to the fringes and allowed themselves to silo more and more and more. It was hard to even fathom…one of those things where the ground beneath your feet seemed to be shifting. The restrictions due to covid may have exasperated this problem, forcing us all into more online communication and less actual human interaction, losing the tell-tale body language we depend on for real conversation (posture changes, facial expression, changes in pitch or tone), into a line of endless characters of rage upon rage upon rage.

And then one day I had a chance to sit across the table from someone I respect, someone I care about, someone I’d call a friend, and have a face-to-face conversation about…gasp…politics.  Let’s just say there are many points on which we did not agree.  However (and this is huge) as we talked it dawned on me: were we to have had this conversation on social media, it would not have ended like it did (which is to say, cordially, with us still friends).  More than likely we’d have each unfollowed the other and gone to bed fuming about how crazy the other was.  

What was different?  

I saw my fellow human being as just that…a human being.  Not a series of letters and words on a post, not as a political enemy, but as a person (and this, also is huge) made in the image of God…the Imago Dei.  Just sitting across from this friend, hearing his voice, hearing his heart (because heart does NOT come across on a screen), hearing his own frustration, and (I believe) fear.    It made me realize how easy it is to marginalize someone I disagree with when I don’t have to sit across from them.

That should scare us all.

Here’s the thing y’all: democracy is messy.  True democracy.  It means your guy won’t always win. It means people get in office who don’t hold your views, and could make life uncomfortable for you.  But what it also means is you have a chance to speak with your vote, to vote them out, or even to run for office yourself.  I realize there are layers to this as well, but y’all, it’s the truth.  Quit acting like democracy only works if it swings in your favor…that’s not democracy.  Democracy comes with an inherent risk, a buyer-beware, if you will: this might not go like you think.  But the  beauty of it is it gives us the power to change it!  Not through fear and weaponry, but through law and order, through voting and, if your elected official doesn’t perform as you’d hoped, voting them out.  

It’s a crazy experiment, democracy, but I believe it’s one worth continuing. 

If we can come to this one conclusion: we’re all humans.  We may not always agree, and when we don’t we may disagree wildly, but in this shared humanity we should be able to find some common ground to work together, to hope, to dream…to build a truly free country.  

[A Caveat: I have had one friendship go from peripheral to central over, of all things, text message in the 4 years we’ve been in Oklahoma. This has not been a superficial text thread, but rather a deep, share-it-all-even-though-I-know-you-won’t-like-what-I’m-saying exchange of two friends. Ok, we also share an inordinate amount of GIFs and guitar videos, but that’s not the point. Through a few phone calls but mainly via many text messages we have had discussions about some REALLY hard topics over the past several years. He has challenged me (likely way more than I’ve challenged him) to lay aside my own biases and dig beneath the surface on many issues. And while we have not always agreed on every point of discussion, we have always ended those discussions civilly, and I for one have always left them feeling encouraged. Why? Because we can disagree and still be friends (and the things we disagree on are not insignificant sometimes). Why? Because we respect each other as people, as humans. We are not simply trying to win an argument. We are friends. So it can happen online, but unfortunately it’s not the rule. You have to be willing to fight for the honesty and humanity in those relationships. ]

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