On being ... scared

By Ingrid Sapona

In the U.S., fear was the main news story all week. With over 182,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 since March, it’s not surprising that fear is rising, right? But the coronavirus, which barely seems to register with most Americans these days, wasn’t the source of fear that was featured on the nightly news.

The fear that was the focus this week is fear that’s being fabricated by politicians to suit their own purposes. It’s based on mis-characterizations and outright lies and it’s meant to sow division, discord, and hatred. It’s a tried and true technique straight out of the dictator playbook. Those in power foment distrust and create havoc and then sweep in with force – whether government agents or surrogate militia – that they control.

While it’s easy to gloss over law and order rallying cries coming out of a political campaign as mere rhetoric, doing so during a time of crisis – both economic and medical – is reckless. Furthermore, not recognizing the danger of such talk adds insult to injury for people from marginalized groups. I’m not much into professional sports, but the most eloquent comments about the campaign of fear came from LA Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers in an interview after an NBA playoff game. Rivers said, “You know, what stands out to me just watching the Republican convention and they’re spewing this fear. … All you hear Donald Trump and all of them talking about [is] fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot… and all you do is keep hearing about fear.”

While the truth of what Rivers was pointing out was powerful, it’s what he said next about the shooting of Jacob Blake that really drove home the profound emotional toll that accompanies the physical violence blacks face. He said, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. And, it’s just really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach and I’m so often reminded of my colour. It’s just really sad. … We protest and they send riot guards. They send people in riot outfits. They go to Michigan with guns and they’re spitting on cops and nothing happens. … I didn’t want to talk about it before the game because it’s just so hard. Just keep watching it. Just keep watching that video. If you watch that video – you don’t need to be black to be outraged. You need to be American and outraged. And how dare the Republicans talk about fear? We’re the ones that need to be scared…”

On being … is meant to be an examination of human nature. I try to tell a story about my thoughts and feelings in an effort to prompt a reaction in the reader. My hope is that your reaction to my take on things may lead you to think about how you may be feeling or behaving.

I hesitated to write today’s column because I think some readers may be turned off because they’ll see it as being about politics. That’s not my intention – today’s column isn’t motivated by politics. It’s rooted in my deep feelings of fear – fear about the future of America. I’m scared for the future of a country where lying is perfectly acceptable, where things of consequence are written off as a hoax, where vigilantes are encouraged to engage in violence, and where invocations of the rule of law are a farce.

I’ve been feeling sadness about all these things for some time, but this week I realized my sadness has turned to fear. So, I’ve been reflecting on ways of coping with my fear. I decided I must own up to my fear and talk about it – and write about it. So, when I realized this, I couldn’t not write today’s column.

To those politicians who want to use fear as a motivator, I say bring it on. I’ve decided I’m going to let my fear motivate me to stand up against racism, injustice, and tyranny – and to invite others to join me. Perhaps by doing so, folks who may be sitting by quietly – in fear of backlash or in hopes of avoiding uncomfortable situations – will find courage too.

What about you? Are you feeling afraid these days? If so, what’s behind it? Is it based on something real, or is it fabricated fear planted by some politician? What coping strategies will you employ to combat the fear?

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona




On being ... thoughtful

By Ingrid Sapona       

I’m sure I’m not the only one tired of reading about peoples’ opinions about facemasks. Indeed, I’ve already done a column about that. So, it is with a bit of hesitation that I set out on today’s column, as I fear you’ll tune out thinking this’ll be more of the same. Honestly, though facemasks will be mentioned, I promise the context is different.

My inspiration for today’s column was an entertaining article I came across on COVID etiquette by Dorothy Woodend, a writer/editor at the Tyee in British Columbia. The sub-head to the article is really what drew me in: “The pandemic confounded the rules of how we relate to one another.” Woodend raised some interesting questions and points about how to behave in different situations. So, I thought it would be fun to share a few of her insights so that you can – as I did – compare your views to hers.

For example, if you run into someone you know and you’re wearing a mask and they’re not, should you remove your mask to talk with them? Woodend wondered whether leaving it on in such a situation might be seen as virtue signalling. Gosh, I never gave a thought to what might be appropriate in that situation. I suppose, depending on the other person’s sensitivities, you could be seen as being passive aggressive regardless of what you do in that case. Oi… how complicated social interations have gotten!

That whole question of how you react to – and feel about – other people’s COVID-related behavior is interesting. The other day I was waiting a long time for the elevator in my building and when if finally arrived, the lone guy in it waved me off to indicate he didn’t want me to get in with him. Naturally, I nodded in assent and stayed put. But, behind my mask, I was annoyed. As I waited for the lift to return, I reminded myself that everyone’s entitled to their own comfort level in enclosed spaces and that I shouldn’t judge.

Another question Woodend touches on his how to welcome folks and demonstrate that you come peaceably. It never occurred to me that the handshake might have developed as a way to show to a stranger that you don’t have a knife or other object you could use to hurt them. But now, handshakes are off limits, as even a hand empty of weapons could carry the virus that could do grave harm to others. Woodend joked that maybe we’ll end up resorting to some sort of weird social dance where we “wave, flail and contort to convey good will”. Being a self-conscious dancer, I’m thinking it might be better to opt for the silly-seeming elbow bump alternative.

The need for clear enunciation is also something we’re all going to value more, as we try to understand folks through their mask. Might elocution classes ala Henry Higgins come back into vogue, Woodend posits. At a minimum, I imagine folks will have to learn to speak louder or be prepared to repeat things. Humour aside, I have thought about how wearing masks has made daily interactions so much harder for people with hearing problems who rely – even a little – on lip reading. Maybe now that many of us are experiencing the challenge of understanding people talking through masks, we’ll understand how profoundly hearing impacts daily life. Perhaps, as a society, we’ll end up doing more to support and help those with hearing problems.

As social creatures, I think there’s something to be said for paying attention to how we conduct ourselves vis-à-vis each other. I think that’s really what manners are all about – customary behaviours that are meant to facilitate smoother social interactions. (Or, as one reader of Ms. Woodend’s article put it, however crudely: Manners are the KY of social intercourse.)

Given that COVID’s changed so many aspects of daily living, it was bound to impact our social interactions, right? And, all change requires adjustment, which definitely can be challenging. But if we approach social interactions with a bit of a sense of humour and an open heart, I think we’ll manage. And who knows, maybe increased thoughtfulness, understanding, and kindness to others will also be a COVID legacy.

What do you think? Any particular changes in etiquette you hope will become the norm in the post-pandemic world?

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona