Fire, Generalizations, & The Heart

Last month, air quality where I live was between 300 and 450 AQI. This is very unhealthy; breathing it even if just for a few minutes can do lung damage. The fires were so bad that 500,000 people were under evacuation orders in my state. I got on Facebook, and I saw a get together with friends. People were having normal lives; something about that felt so odd. I saw a post about masks to avoid spreading COVID, and I thought, Oh, that is still happening. Right. I now wear a mask to breathe.

I wonder if this is how people felt when their area was ravaged by a hurricane. They might have seen a post by me about going out to some gathering or some little piece of humor. I wonder if this is how people felt when their community suffered, and the rest of the world went on.

When I was growing up, we’d watch the local news any time there was dangerous weather. I’d feel such a solidarity with everyone in my area knowing that we are all going through the same thing.  Social media is global; we are not all going through the same thing. But there is a desire in me to want us to be. I have seen the desire in others to want us to be.  We all long for community that cares and understands what we are going through. This is important. This is human. But a lot of us find it on social media, and we are disappointed.

I have seen quite a few people refer to “Christian” as meaning a certain thing, and it isn’t someone in love with the Godman. All over the world there are people who love God-Made-Human yet live in vastly different ways. Yes, there are groups who are prejudice against everyone else, and it breaks my heart that this is a thing, let alone representative. (And I doubt there is much love there). Then we have people killed for their faith in their countries because their love for the Eucharist was so strong they would not hide at home. Years ago I met a group from Swaziland who was on fire for their faith and danced together in church. It isn’t all one culture.

I’ve seen posts by people confused about what to do in order to do their part in this world. There is one showing a list of things that society expects us to do; the items contradict one another. How could we ever do them? And people are stressed. But society is not one entity. One group thinks this, and the other group thinks that, and the first group did research and changed their minds to a third thing, and within that group individuals have huge differences. Sure, the news may capture what different groups believe at different times, but there is no “They” trying to tell you what to do and contradicting itself to make you suffer. It isn’t an entity; it is just a bunch of pieces.  As you know, if you are from a big family, there is no pleasing everyone. But our brains still often see society as one thing which can make life more difficult.

These brains we have group things so as to not be overwhelmed by data. These hearts we have need community and will find it wherever we can.  To generalize is normal and hard not to do.  But it can lead to needless hurt; it can assault the human spirit.  

One thing that I learned long ago in self-help groups was that all-or-nothing thinking worsens our emotional condition. It plays up problems and makes them bigger than they are in our brains. Instead of a few instances of a loved one cutting us off when we speak (something to be addressed), they now “never let me finish,” and therefore, why should I even bother with them?  Instead of noticing that I’ve failed a test three times and passed seven, “I always fail,” so why keep trying?  Generalizations can do the same things. “Christians don’t accept me.” “Men don’t listen to me.” It makes things seem overwhelming and unsolvable. We fail to weed out and solve problems or build on successes. It is just all one big mess in the brain that makes one feel more like a powerless outcast than one really is.

Because of the entity mindset, we can easily feel like failures or like we are being rejected when we are not.  If my house burns down and my neighbor (whose house is fine) comes out and looks and doesn’t say anything, that is odd behavior. If my house burns down and my friend working a 12-hour shift in a COVID-19 unit in NY City didn’t respond to my post, that is different. In this global way we have of connecting, we are not one culture. We are a collection of people from different backgrounds who may or may not have plates heaping with responsibilities.  We even have our own ideas about the right way to respond to things. In some cultures, you give a person space; in others, you check in every day. Person A thinks Person B is cold and Person B thinks Person A is a busybody. Thinking we are one culture can lead to hurt and confusion. (This is not to deny that we are all one world and that we are all human and deserving of respect.)

I care about my friend in Louisiana and how the hurricanes affected her. She cares about me and how I dealt with forest fires. If we didn’t talk in September, it isn’t that we didn’t care. It is that we are all dealing with what is in our area. And that is OK. One of my Oregon friends re-discovered the local news and told me about it as we were discussing our shared experience. My sister evacuated to our house and we spent time with family. It was what I needed.

Media can easily have me feeling inadequate, inconsequential, rejected, or alone. But that isn’t the truth.  I realize that generalities are prevalent, sometimes needed, and extremely hard not to do. But I urge you (and myself) to fight back against any which aren’t helpful. Doing work upfront to change one’s thinking is work, but it is entirely worth it.  

May God bless your day.

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