Yes, we're all in this together, but we are each experiencing it differently.
Each of my six children is entirely different. Yes, all are burdened with having me as a father and enduring my corny jokes, games, and goofiness – in fact, one of my daughters told me yesterday that she has learned to tune me out — but they soldier on. My children are very patient. They’re all stuck in the same situation, enduring my idiosyncrasies, until one day they’ll realize with dawning horror that they have become just like me.
It’s so odd, isn’t it, that children can grow up in identical circumstances – same parents, same school, same neighborhood – and yet their personalities are entirely different? As a father, I strive to give each of them what they need. Our oldest needs a little space while our youngest demands attention from sunup to sundown. Our boys need a good dose of roughhousing and wrestling, the girls far less so. A few of them enjoy being challenged, while others benefit more from gentle encouragement. They’re at all sorts of different places in terms of their interests, subjects they enjoy in school, food they like to eat, and how they prefer to spend their free time. I strive to honor their individuality and relate to them in the way that best fits each one’s personality.
In a way I never expected, parenting has turned out to be one big glorious mess. Every prospective parent has dreams of a rational, systematic household in which children are led on a predictable path towards maturation. Then the first child arrives, refuses to take a nap for any reason, throws oatmeal in your face, and those dreams become something you dream about while waiting for your kid to agree to put on his shoes. It quickly becomes apparent that relating to children is about recognizing each is unique and has particular needs. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.
This is the case not only within families but within society as a whole. We may all live in the same planet, but that doesn’t mean we’re the same. Not at all. This is why you might talk to one person in one way and approach a conversation with someone else completely differently. It’s why you might tease one friend, but be gentle with another. We’re all children in the same household of God, but we’re still completely unique.
In my house, when a virus arrives, we batten down the hatches. A few of the younger kids are always the first to become ill. My wife, because she nurses them most closely, is often next. I’m always the last, although I, along with a few of the other children, might not get sick at all. A few of the kids need more attention when they’re sick, others just want to be left alone in bed until they feel better. Me? I become a giant, helpless, complaining baby. During these times of illness – which can often last several weeks — my wife is concerned about sanitizing the house, delivering medicine, and nurturing us all through it. I, on the other hand, focus on staying healthy so I can continue to fulfill my duties at work. The two of us have different perspectives – same situation, differing needs. Neither of us is wrong. We work as a team and complement each other.
Perhaps you can see where this analogy is going. A grave sickness has entered our global household. It has affected each of us differently. Some are far more at-risk because of preexisting health issues, while others have already had it and didn’t even notice. Employment situations are all over the map with many continuing to work full-time, others working from home or on reduced hours, and tens of millions of others unemployed. Small business owners are seeing the efforts of a lifetime evaporate before their eyes and may lose everything. Some must wake up in the morning prepared to wait for hours in food lines so they can eat one more day There are also people for whom this is basically a vacation. They have enough money to pay the bills and are enjoying long, luxurious mornings drinking coffee on their shaded patios.
How do we continue to relate to each other, dialogue with empathy, and live with each other in kindness when we may be experiencing these days so differently?
The key is understanding that we are a family and we are not all the same. We have different needs and different concerns. No one should be mocked for being afraid of getting sick or desiring that more businesses be allowed to open up. No one should be shamed, or labeled, or seen merely as an opponent to be argued with. If anything, as we spend time reading news and communicating online, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate the assumptions we make about each other, the way we dialogue (or don’t), and the way we harden our positions and stop listening. Even if I don’t understand the way another person is reacting, I can try to understand and give them what they need.
When we do this we are seeking the common good, the same goal, for the whole family to be happy. What we are going through right now we will conquer together, but only be respecting each other’s differences.