Sunday May 30, 2021
The big picture only hits home when it becomes the small picture. That’s why movie makers show you the big picture--of thousands of foot soldiers surging up a hill, for example--and then zoom in to show the tension visible on a single face.
After 14 months of daily pandemic statistics, the big picture of daily COVID-19 statistics goes over my head like distant thunder.
Until Wednesday of this week.
When my daughter tested positive.
She had developed the classic symptoms the day before: cough, nausea, sore throat, headache, some fever. Her test results came back in just one day.
Suddenly, COVID-19 has stopped being a big picture and has become intensely personal.
Before my daughter’s diagnosis, I can’t think of one personal acquaintance who caught the virus. Indeed, the whole community of Lake Country--a bubble of some 14,000 people--has stayed remarkably COVID free.
I can’t think that anymore.
I might be immune. I had my first vaccination two months ago.
Or maybe not. Suddenly, COVID-19 is about me. And about my only child.
Too often, we forget that things have to get personal to get taken seriously.
I’ve always known that, theoretically. When I taught writing classes, I told my students, “Make it personal.” Not personal in the sense of attacks on an individual, but personal in the sense that their reader can find a real person to identify with. A believable character in a story. A human touch in a business letter.
The impersonal reply favoured by government and corporate offices satisfies no one. Not the writer. Not the receiver.
Having a real person at both ends of the communication makes a solution far more possible.
“Hi, I’m Sandy,” says a voice at my bank’s call centre.
“Hi, Sandy,” I say, “I hope you can help me.”
Sometimes she can; sometimes she can’t. But the personal contact is much preferable to trying to navigate through any voice menu.
Dumping a truckload of facts will rarely change anyone’s mind. A carefully reasoned argument often bounces off an emotional roadblock.
Situations become real only when they become personal.
Michael Coren was once the voice of evangelical churches fulminating against abortion and homosexuality. He came well-armed with biblical references, historic arguments, and dogmas and doctrines. Then, I gather, he came to know some gay Christian men personally. And that changed his views.
A more trivial example. The publishing house I co-founded used to have chronic problems with deadlines. No matter how detailed the schedules--manuscript to editing, editing to design; design to production … -- we kept missing deadlines.
Then a novice coordinator started using people’s real names. Instead of referring to abstract functions, she substituted Mike, Marilyn, Jim, Julie…
We still didn’t always meet our deadlines. But we did a lot better when we knew that failing to deliver on time directly affected someone we had coffee with every morning.
Perhaps the ultimate modern example was Princess Diana’s death in a Paris underpass in August 1997. We had seen the paparazzi hounding her. But nobody felt they had to do anything about it. That was all out there, somewhere, in celebrity land.
Her death made media persecution real for all of us.
Finally paying attention
Tragically, it often takes a death to expose systemic injustice. When a situation gets bad enough that people lose their lives, we finally pay attention.
Videos of George Floyd’s death under Derek Chauvin’s knee focused attention on prejudice in American police forces in a way that reams of studies couldn’t.
The Hundred Years War in Europe is meaningless to anyone but obsessive students of history. The burning of a young woman at the stake makes it more personal -- Joan of Arc, sacrificed 590 years ago today.
It was not a bunch of brilliant insights that founded Christianity. The prophets, especially Isaiah, had expressed most of those ideas five centuries earlier, in what historians now call the Axial Age.
It took an individual, a person the western churches call Jesus, to live his convictions, and attract people willing to follow his example. And like Diana, it took his death to drive home the message about the fundamental injustice of his society. And of ours, today.
Writers and reporters always look for the “human interest” angle that makes the story more compelling.
I’ve had a vaccination. I think I’m safe. Maybe. But the pandemic is no longer something that affects other people. It has become intensely personal.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Judging by the mail received after last week’s column on the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, I would have to assume that most of my readers support the rights of Palestinians.
Frank Martens has studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years: “There have been a number of books written on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the most popular being that of Ilan Pappe, an Israeli Jew. Reading it will give you a historical review of the creation of Israeli over the lives of the Palestinians who lived in that area.
“If you have the time, read Jonathan Cook’s take on what has caused the fighting that broke out more recently. Cook has lived in Bethlehem for over 20 years. Coexistence in Israel’s ‘mixed cities’ was always an illusion (jonathan-cook.net)”
Cliff Boldt: “I saw a book in my favourite book store: The War that Ended the Peace. It is about the Treaty of Versailles that created a bunch of countries out of the Ottoman Empire. The white western leaders took a pencil or pen and drew some lines.
“Then the war ended that led to the creation of Israel. Shaazam -- the western powers now had a surrogate to fight on their behalf. And that is the root cause and the reason why a clear solution escapes everyone. Follow the money and the power.”
Bob Rollwagen mused about wars in general: “The Crusades, battles over the Crowns of Europe, England vs The Scots, Ireland, and the list goes on. Many involved religion and race and, like the gang wars in Toronto, revenge and territory apparently part of the motivation. If you spend a day at the National Human Rights museum in Winnipeg, it becomes quite clear that these events are common. Look at what happened to the indigenous tribes in North America or Central America and still going on.”
Lowell Courtney had a twist: “Facebook showed a map of England with ‘England’ crossed out and replaced by ‘Rome’. The accompanying text noted: ‘This territory was occupied by Rome from 43 BC to 406 AD. According to the religion of Jupiter, Romans now have the right to turn up, evict you from your house and take occupancy.’
“Now you know what it's like to be a Palestinian."
David Gilchrist was around for the creation of Israel: “I heard a lot of religious talk about God having given that land to the Jews. I remember feeling, even as a young man of 20 in 1948, that the purportedly altruistic act of creating a new Israel, was actually an anti-Semitic deed [cop out? JT]. The Zionists jumped at the opportunity. And the land left to the Palestinians has been violently taken over more and more -- till only a small portion is left to them; and even that is mostly Israeli controlled.
“And the ‘Christian’ world didn't bat an eye.
“But many of the finest Jewish people have done what they could to bring peace, and help their Palestinian neighbours. We visited one wonderful project: the ‘Oasis of Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam’ in Israel.”
Steve Roney: “The impression that Judea was a particularly violent part of the ancient world may have to do with better records. We know from Roman history that the neighbouring Etruscans, and the Carthaginians, were wiped out just like the Canaanites. Many other such nations may have died unrecorded. It may also have to do with Palestine’s geography: it is a bottleneck for several major migration routes, that conquering armies have to pass through: from Africa into Asia, from Asia into Africa, from Europe into Asia and Africa, by sea from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and vice versa. It’s like the world’s traffic circle.
“For this same reason, it was the ideal spot for God to reveal himself: the one point from which the revelation could most efficiently spread to all parts of the world.
“I doubt Jesus would have had a warmer reception in Athens: the story of the death of Socrates testifies to that.”
Ken Nicholls, writing from England: “While agreeing with all you say, I'm sorry that you let my country off so lightly. You mention Israel having 'vastly superior weaponry, supplied by the U.S.' I would like to add that the UK is also selling vast amounts of weapons there too.”
Mirza Yawan Baig liked my line, “The most aggressive souvenir vendors outside of India.”
“Love that line. And sadly I agree with all that you have said. I wish there were a solution to this. I’m afraid, there probably isn’t.”
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