Editor’s Note: We’re only a few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, and it already seems like years. All we can do is make the best of it, but that’s easier said than done. We can only hope that, at this time next year, everyone reading this is still alive and well, and the memory of spring 2020 is dim and not too horrible.

Try a Little Tenderness


During the past couple decades, I’ve written something like 200 of these op-ed pieces. About 15 years ago, the editorial page editor made an observation about my efforts that I believe she meant to be a criticism: “I don’t think you’re trying to change the minds of readers you disagree with — I think you just like to offend them.”

At the time, this assessment annoyed me, but, in retrospect, she wasn’t entirely wrong. My strengths incline toward the snide and sarcastic, and I wouldn’t last long in any job that required me to make converts or persuade anyone of anything he didn’t already believe. And I have a difficult time convincingly doing “warm and fuzzy” without lapsing into sappy and sentimental.

In the corona era, many in the media, including the social media, are disparaging snide sarcasm and divisive tribalism, but there’s a wide gap between aspiration and reality. Some cable news networks sound like nonstop Trump rallies, while others portray him as Satan. You’d think that, during a pandemic, we’d all pull together, but, to use a meaningless tautology, people are what they are.

When politicians tasked with looking out for our well-being use a tragedy to line their own pockets, it’s hard to have faith in our leadership or humanity in general. As the virus spread, several U.S. senators used privileged insider information, and white-collar criminal instincts, to sell stock at a profit. Not to be outdone, televangelists and megachurch pastors are peddling “miracle” cures and demanding tithes in a sort of ecclesiastical protection racket, while blaming this disaster on homosexuals, transsexuals and abortionists. We’ve heard it all before.

As some people started hoarding, others attacked Asian Americans, because nothing incites patriotic blame and bigotry like immigrants, even if they’re American citizens with no connection to the problem. At the same time, hordes of teenagers made pilgrimages to Florida at the onset of the outbreak. If you want to experience despair about the nation’s future, watch interviews with college kids on the beach explaining how important it is that spring break not be derailed by some minor worldwide epidemic.

Social distancing is amplifying social media’s quasi-anonymity, inflaming already-pestilential antagonisms. When I posted an overly partisan COVID-19 meme on Facebook, it spawned a predictable mix of likes and indignation, including increasingly vicious ad hominem attacks. However, a response from someone I haven’t seen in years, who’d always been a nice person, caught my eye: “We need to promote kindness and love to all beings, no matter what.” It made my original posting (and the responses to it) seem nasty and petty, so I sheepishly took it down.

Only a Pollyanna (or a politician) would see a plague killing thousands as even remotely a balance of good and evil. And the self-serving optimism of preachers (and politicians) exhorting their followers to crowd together for church services is irresponsible and dangerous. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try — as the Monty Python troupe once sang during a painful episode — to “look on the bright side of life.”

One disturbing newspaper story warned that home quarantines are likely to exacerbate domestic violence. And, after the coronavirus has spiked, the divorce rate will probably spike as well. But what if parents who’d been too busy to spend time with their families tried to bond with their children by playing with them? And what if the absence of our friends and neighbors actually did make our hearts grow fonder? Anything’s possible.

A peculiar debate argues the racism of terms like “China virus,” even though West Nile virus and Lyme disease are named for geographic regions, and the 1918 influenza referred to as the “Spanish flu” didn’t even originate in Spain. Maybe we could stop calling corona the “Chinese flu.” If we need to blame someone, how about the Chinese Communist party, which has blood on its hands, rather than Chinese people, who are also its victims. Maybe we could start with a more-benevolent view of Chinese Americans, and expand from there. What was it someone said, “Love thy neighbor”? It could happen.

After riots in Los Angeles, police brutality victim Rodney King was mocked for asking, “Can’t we all get along?” At the time, this was treated as a sappy sentiment, and, today, of course, the answer is “No. We can’t,” but maybe we could at least try. Perhaps, rather than hoarding more toilet paper than we need, we could buy canned goods and take them to a food bank. And those of us running low on money could use our savings for something better than bigger arsenals and enough ammunition for a war.

Are there people from the other end of the political spectrum you hate? Has “house arrest” made you resent them more than ever? Maybe try not to talk (or think) about whomever you despise the most one or two days a week. Instead, on those days, say nice things about someone you do like. For me, it would be Governor Cuomo or Dr. Fauci. Regardless, replace a villain with a hero. And because we’re input/output devices, turn off the TV occasionally, especially during the news hour.

Finally, do what you’re told, and stay home. The Greatest Generation went straight from high school into World War II. My father-in-law was ordered to parachute into Normandy, then freeze his butt off at the Battle of the Bulge, while Nazis tried to kill him. Our cellphones, social media, microwaves, remote controls and 150 cable channels should at least enable us baby boomers to survive exile to our comfy sofas.

I doubt that the memory of 2020 will ever feel warm and fuzzy. But at least we could try to feel a little bit proud of ourselves once it’s over and done.

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