When the global COVID-19 pandemic started, I was a missionary serving away from my home. I was isolated from the old world I knew, facing a seemingly hopeless future of disease and heartache.
I was scared and I thought the world was ending, but as missionaries we still shared messages. The way we shared went completely digital, as most of the world did in the first few months of the virus’s spread. There was safety there because everything was under control, no rules or regulations to manage. It became a crutch for the world at a necessary moment: School continued, businesses rebuilt and things were getting better.
However, that initial safety exposed people to another virus, a virus that sucked people away from friends and family because they could live virtually instead of trying to come out of the disaster. The dependence of this virtual world has become an addiction, but instead of addressing it as an addiction, governments and families rationalize it as just being the result of a hard year. The fear of losing that safety net looms like a dark cloud.
In order to secure a bright future, we must develop change to limit online interactions, be safe in our gatherings, mask up and help those around us to do the same.
All the fear and division the pandemic created continues to strangle families. It is changing how the world copes and grows amid challenges. We are lost in a pandemic that thrives by turning people against each other, inspiring fear. Although the pandemic is not over, the world is trying to improve. But instead, it turns more and more into a new virtual reality where everyone enjoys false security. The world either is too comfortable online or disregards the safety regulations that allow us to be together.
Since returning home from my mission, I have realized how people have misplaced priorities and torn each other apart in terms of life during a pandemic. The safety precautions are drowned out by the noise of disregard of safety or the assumption that our only realistic option is a virtual life.
There is some truth there: Things have changed, we will never fully come back exactly how we were and the skills we have gained are invaluable. But that does not mean we cannot move out of the online setting without fear, as long as we take the proper precautions.
Take my local church congregation for an example. Zoom is available for those who have been exposed or are particularly at risk, but the majority of the people watching are just those who use it as a convenience, pandemic or not. The convenience of working online has changed from an effort to social distance to a way to avoid talking to that one coworker who is kind of awkward. We cannot take away the virtual part because of the limitations of some who are at risk, but we can try harder to help save the relationships that make humans human as opposed to robots.
Safely gathering, doing our part to keep others safe, yet still benefitting from building real relationships.
To preserve and foster this irreplaceable human interaction, we need to do our part. It might require putting on a mask even when it seems ridiculous or doing a little more work to be together safely. That effort is a small price to pay for the value of a real conversation or in-person experience. Then, with a little work, we can say we are building a better future and will see this pandemic unite people together because we value our relationships more than we do our opinions.