The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
We were driving through Northern Arizona when I saw the sign: “Stop the mask madness.” I was infuriated.
“I hope whomever put that up dies of COVID!” I yelled at my husband.
And it was then I realized I’d crossed the Rubicon from bare irritation into full-on hatred, and I didn’t like it. What had these past nine months of coronavirus – and four years of political partisanship – done to me?
I did what I do when I feel like a horrible human, which is head to confession.
I’m a big believer in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, commonly called confession. Indeed, I’m confident our entire country would improve if everyone spent 30 minutes weekly considering, “How have I failed to love my neighbor?”, and then honestly admitted those failures to someone who challenged them with penitential steps.
It’s the opposite of pop-culture catharsis, where get-out-of-jail-free cards are frequently passed out with the words, “You’re doing your best.” Submitting to confession states clearly that you know you aren’t doing your best and want to do better.
It had been eight months since my last confession, a lifetime on the Catholic abacus, so I brought a decent laundry list of sins into the socially distant, masked-up confession room. But the big one was harboring hatred toward my fellowman.
When I spoke it aloud, it was obvious from the priest’s reaction that I wasn’t the first person he’d heard this from lately. He sighed deeply, as if to say, “Oh, this again.”
I was bawling my eyes out, realizing how far I’d sunk into the hate cesspool, but also confused how to love people who, by their very action of not wearing masks, were essentially screaming at me that they didn’t care if I lived or died.
“And the 20- to 40-year-olds who are driving up the cases!” I blubbered. “Don’t they know schools will never be able to open as long as they keep going out? Don’t they care about thousands of elementary kids losing a year of schooling?”
The priest nodded, sweating behind his mask. Yes, he acknowledged, we’ve become a nation – and, more disturbingly, a church – of haters, our us-versus-them lines drawn not in sand but in concrete.
I wish I could say I had nothing but unicorns and butterflies for people openly defying mask regulations or questioning COVID science after confession. But nothing is that easy.
Still, the penance of offering a prayer of goodwill toward these strangers has made a dent in what had become unbridled hatred.
According to presidential historian Jon Meacham, we’ve always been divided. Division, he explained last week on NBC’s “Today” show, “is part of the oxygen of democracy.”
The difference now is that many people seem to have lost the “capacity to change their minds if circumstance suggests they should” especially in the political arena. We no longer look at each other as neighbors who hold a different opinion, but adversaries to be conquered.
I know President Trump is to blame for much of this by his giving credence to hatred with his dog whistles to groups like the Proud Boys, encouraging hate-filled chants at his rallies and questioning science on his Twitter feed. I know it is infuriating that so many people have been brainwashed to distrust actual journalists and scientists and yet trust Steve Bannon even after he encouraged the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci in his “War Room: Pandemic” podcast.
I also know Hillary Clinton did Democrats no favors when she referred to Trump supporters in 2016 as a “basket of deplorables” and that the “woke” left’s unfettered embrace of cancel culture on social media is no less bullying than Trump’s actions on Twitter.
But we have to move forward or we’ll be headed for civil war. I’m confident that the country’s moderate middle majority doesn’t want that.
Yes, there are certain nonnegotiables like racism which we can’t accept in the name of getting along. But we have to start somewhere, and that means listening to each other. Not debating, mind you, just listening and trying to understand the concerns of the other side.
Because despite what your Facebook news feed tells you, both sides have some valid concerns, and listening is the only way to discover what they are. Not every Trump supporter is a racist, just like not every Biden supporter is pro-abortion. As President-elect Joe Biden said last week, “… we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans.”
The only way to do that is to start making different choices.
So when the woman behind me in the Starbucks drive-thru threw up her hands in frustration and glared at me in my rearview mirror as I took a few extra seconds to put on my mask to protect the barista who was protecting me with her mask, I didn’t jump out of my car and explain science to her or even mutter a complaint to my empty car.
I simply took a deep breath and offered a prayer of goodwill. Then, I asked the barista what the woman’s order was and paid for it. It’s a start.
Renée Schafer Horton is a regular Star op-ed contributor who believes in civil listening. If you, too, are interested in that, contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Instagram @rshorton08.