By Matt Reese
In one of my favorite books, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis has some advice that hits very close to home as we muddle our way through the astonishing early days of 2021.
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
If I asked for a show of hands of who was guilty at some point of starting down the dark path described by Lewis, this would be a short blog because I really can’t type well with one hand.
No matter the party you voted for, there is plenty to be upset and embarrassed about in our nation. That makes it easy to start the blame game (again, I am certainly guilty of this). Of course, there are many things we can blame for our current plight: social media, censorship of social media, an endless news cycle of battling networks seeking to appeal to as many viewers as possible, every kind of -ism, political campaigns garnering votes by presenting worst case scenarios about the opposition, and outlandish, violent and illegal actions being closely tied to political affiliations. It is most easy, though, to simply blame the other side. Hate from one side breeds hate for the other. Back and forth it goes in a truly awful game of increasingly atrocious one-upmanship validated by the fear of those perceived worst-case scenarios.
Amid the battle, many people from Ohio’s urban centers to the most rural back roads are wondering what to do about the truly overwhelming circumstances. I believe Lewis would suggest, rather than focusing outward on what is out of our control, times like these are better spent focused inward on shaping the one perspective we can control.
For example, I think most everyone has opinions on how local, state and national leaders have responded since March of 2020. We have all heard countless complaints about how things were mishandled. But, I wonder, do you instead have any examples where the challenges were handled well?
In December I received a letter from Tim Sword, who was very proud of how his local community handled the incredible challenges of 2020. He sent me a copy of a letter he wrote to the village of Somerset in Perry County. He wrote:
I am writing to express my gratitude for your conduct in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining your composure and sense of community, for acting quickly and responsibly to the sudden health crisis, and for your simultaneous efforts to support the vitality of your community, you deserve praise.
Along with the entire world this year, you were forced to respond to numerous unexpected challenges that have fundamentally disrupted all of our lives. While much of the national and global news regarding the pandemic has at best been troubling and disheartening, I believe it is worth pointing out a few of the reasons that the people who live, work and shop within your embrace can be proud and, yes, even cheerful!
From the beginning you did not hesitate to assume responsibility to address the sudden challenges that came in the wake of COVID-19. You made timely decisions to properly respond to the many unknowns and address many instinctive concerns and fears that we now understand accompany a pandemic. You acted decisively by quickly establishing constant communication with local and state health officials, accurately relaying important safety protocol updates, and accessing funding and additional resources to support your important local businesses.
Tim pointed out that, despite real setbacks and challenges, the village was able to safely operate schools, the local farmers market and community pool and somehow was able to welcome a new restaurant and retail store to town. Now I am certain there are plenty of imperfections that can be accurately pointed out about the leaders of Somerset or any community in Ohio, but I am also certain that if we are indeed in Lewis’ “universe of pure hatred” we are overlooking some very positive aspects of people in our lives, our communities and our nation — especially those with whom we disagree.
Thanks Tim for sharing a nice update from your community and the reminder of how much good is still happening out there in small town Ohio. Tim concludes his letter by suggesting that we take the chance to “purposefully admire” our communities and celebrate our “many reasons to be grateful.”
In a world with plenty of hate, this solid advice may not solve all of our problems, but it seems like a good place to start.