McKean Minute: Be a Diamond

A good friend who, as an urban firefighter, has made a career out of helping people in hard times, told me that anxiety and external pressure accentuate the personalities of humans. Generous, benevolent people tend to be more so when the chips are down, sharing precious resources and ministering to strangers in pain. Suspicious, mistrustful folk tend to become increasingly covetous and isolating as the vise tightens.

“Pressure makes diamonds,” he told me, citing one of those platitudes you probably heard from your high-school football coach. But then he adds a perspective from his job. “Pressure also makes coal.”

I mention this, of course, in the context of our current tightening vise, the widening and deepening spread of the vile coronavirus. As I write this, we are in the early days of sequestration as families and small social units and figuring out just how serious and lasting this moment will be.

I’ve noticed a couple of tendencies in this time. The first is a sort of self-satisfied glee that we, as hunters and foragers, have been preparing all our lives for this moment. We post photos of our freezers full of wild game and closets full of guns. The second is a sort of shared condemnation of our neighbors as they (and we) raid grocery stores, stock up on essential (and non-essential) items, and fret openly about what’s ahead.

None of us has a good idea of what is ahead, but if other countries and communities are a guide, then we could be faced with intense pressure as health-care resources are stretched, travel restrictions are imposed, isolation creates anxiety and scarcity, and people we know and love are laid low by this silent, invisible stranger.

I have a lot of hopes about how this all ends, but one of them is that we come out the other side as individuals and communities tested by pressure and proven to be worthy of our own expectation of ourselves as generous and benevolent.

You have a choice. Be a diamond.

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