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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Best of Us

Although I am writing this post a few weeks ahead of the date it will appear (in order to maintain some sanity the topic is one I am certain will remain relevant in the weeks and months to come—if not forever. When crises occur, they tend to bring out the best and sadly often the worst in our national character. We have only to think back to the events of Sept 11 to recall a defining moment when men and women demonstrated heroism and selflessness that was universally acknowledged. As I write this the same is true in countries all over the globe as first responders, healthcare workers and citizens of all stripe have stepped forward to help.

We have also seen stories of hoarding, people capitalizing on the crises for personal gain and even those who are using the current situation to prey on people’s fears. This should not surprise us as it exists alongside goodness all of the time. This is understandable—but what is not is the persistent politicization that our national leadership has exhibited setting the tone for similar or even far excessive behavior from ordinary citizens. With conspiracy theories abounding, blame ladled out in buckets full, and abhorrent behavior an increasingly frequent sight, it is clear that the thin veneer of rational and compassionate humanity we allege as a society is in danger of being revealed as a sham unless we resist it with every fiber of our being.

It is easy to be kindly and thoughtful when things go well—but when we are living with fear daily, when a present danger presents itself that we exhibit our true nature. I cannot help but think of the character of those living in Great Britain during the second world war. Or for that matter the countless men and women in this country during that same period who came together to support those on the front lines. I ask myself has this changed. I am not sure I have an answer but I have a slender hope. It is simply this. As self-indulgent and independent as we can be there is in our innate character something that binds us that goes beyond jingoism, beyond selfishness, beyond politics. Living in a rural community in New Hampshire at one time taught me the importance of community.

I lived in a very small town—only a few hundred people, and as is typical in small towns everyone knew everyone’s business. You might think that led to a gossipy and close-minded attitude—and perhaps it did behind closed doors. I cannot know. But what I do know is that at times of crisis—when a farmer nearby fell ill at haying season, with an unfinished barn and cows to milk—we took turns getting up at 4am to milk, got together to finish the barn and bring in the hay. In a part of our country where political independence is the watchword (the license plates display the state motto, “Live Free or Die”), people in our community understood that without their neighbors they were alone. No one expected anything in return, and a small thankyou potluck picnic was the only acknowledgement several months later when our neighbor’s health was regained. But we all understood that we could count on each other when things got rough.

That was not the only act of kindness I witnessed and participated in—all of it without anyone being asked and none with any reciprocal arrangement—just the understanding that it was our job to help each other. That my friends is the best of us—what I hope we’ll see more and more in the days ahead. If we truly want to restore the view that we are a great nation, we don’t need ball caps and rallies—we just need to care about one another—and put the politics aside.

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