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Finding Common Ground, Six Feet Away

In addition to a movie featuring Audrey Hepburn, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is the title of perhaps the only recognizable song by a band called Deep Blue Something. The song is sung from the point of view of a man whose girlfriend is on the verge of breaking up with him because she feels the two have nothing in common. Desperate to find something, the man brings up the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and his girlfriend agrees they both kind of liked it. The man hopes that their mutual affinity for this movie might just be enough common ground for them to build their relationship on. We have no idea whether the couple from this song stays together, but as we debate reopening after quarantine, that idea of finding common ground currently seems to be a crucial one for our country. Contrasting opinions about how to move forward are threatening to erase our initial common purpose and the progress we’ve made when we first faced the coronavirus pandemic.

When my home state first enacted the stay-at-home directive, most people seemed in agreement that these steps were needed to keep us safe. We began working from home, adjusting to new ways of conducting meetings and getting our tasks done, and limiting errands to the essentials. Many of us even experienced an initial burst of energy to tackle projects around the house that we previously seemed to never have time for. We rallied with any enthusiasm we could muster as we adjusted to this new everyday life. As those first few days became the first few weeks, our momentum may have sagged a bit. We started to realize that we were not going to be able to swiftly return to “normal.” Although our actions began to “flatten the curve,” we still have no highly effective treatment or vaccine for a unpredictable and highly contagious virus which sickens some people to the point of hospitalization and is fatal to others.

So now we confront the extremely difficult questions of when and how to move forward. Undoubtedly, we were a country divided in many ways before our current crisis. Although tensions with those of differing political opinions bubbled over here and there, we were usually able to keep things in check. In order to preserve friend and family relationships, we might “agree to disagree” or avoid hot button topics altogether, especially at the holiday dinner table. Recently, instead of debating with those of different viewpoints, I’ve found myself reading through comments online with contrasting political opinions from my own. When I disagree with something, I might shake my head in disbelief or formulate a perfectly stated rebuttal which will forever remain trapped in my own brain. Like many of us, I share my thoughts with those who hold similar opinions to mine, but rarely seek out discussions with others who have different viewpoints.

Differences are not a bad thing. My husband is outgoing and consistently optimistic; I tend to be more introverted and, on my better days, cautiously hopeful. One of my kids engages in great discussions about abstract subjects while another makes me laugh with unexpected and incredibly witty remarks. We thrive on the differences we bring to the world: how boring life would be if we interacted with people just like ourselves all the time. It is even okay to hold differing societal and political viewpoints: disagreements in these areas have always existed, and they always will. The problem is our increasing inability to hold rational, direct conversations with someone who has a different point of view than we do. But it is crucial that we find ways to do just that, so that we can decide how to reasonably and safely return to some semblance of normal. As much as we all want to, we cannot simply throw open the gates of society and let everyone stream back in. Our different opinions on moving forward stem from our own physical, emotional, and economic situations. People other than us will have to take these critical human realities into account and make decisions regarding policy. For our part, we are tasked with finding ways to collaborate with our community members in order to keep everyone safe.

On a brief store trip recently, I wore a mask and gloves. I entered the store and proceeded to gather needed items quickly. I avoided people as much as possible, but I struggled because it seemed others in the store were disregarding the social distancing guidelines. I must admit, I felt a bit like a wide-eyed fugitive in one of those classic cartoons as I darted around, scanning for other shoppers and quickly ducking into another aisle if someone approached me.

I don’t know for certain that coming in closer contact with someone else will give me coronavirus. I don’t know that my measures are enough to avoid contracting the virus. But what I do know is that medical experts say non-symptomatic individuals can transmit the virus. Being mindful of the six-feet guideline is the best way to protect not only myself, but other shoppers that may be caring for a vulnerable person at home or working in a hospital or nursing home. I know that not everyone shares this mindset: difference such as this are symptomatic of a deeper divide that’s been eating at our world for a while. But I believe that we should not be afraid to have conversations about these and other topics with the people in our lives, understanding that our foundational relationships can remain healthy and intact all the same.

As a country, we need to find our own common ground, our “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: re-opening, while committing to measures and a timeline that supports our hospitals, as well as keeping ourselves and our most vulnerable safe. For this week, I hope that we can seek to discover ways that unite us, rather than divide us. To cope, you could succumb to that pent-up frustration over our differences and take it out in a comments section on Facebook. But I argue that holding those difficult conversations with the people in your life face-to-face (and six feet away 😊) will allow us to develop more empathy, community, and collaborative solutions as we move forward together. As always, we have a say in how this pandemic changes our world: let’s make it one filled with people who seek to understand and work with each other.


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