An Ohio divided over reopening

Ohioans have become increasingly divided over the state's actions during a gradual reopening. (Photo by Paul Becker used under Creative Commons license.)

Ohio is opening up the way that Gov. Mike DeWine wants it to and there's nothing you or I can do about it.

Or is there?

The myth of the universal experience

The COVID-19 pandemic is unfathomably complicated. For everyone but perhaps a medical doctor, its complexity renders the virus nearly unknowable.

What happens to people when problems are so complicated that simple answers become impossible to find? We retreat and tell ourselves stories of comfort and justification. We discard nuance and confusion and replace it with simplicity.

This is a natural response. Everyone does it. The search for emotional safety and predictable outcomes is hard-wired into our nature. 

We also tend to forget that our individual storyline only applies to us.

Take me for instance. I haven't missed a paycheck. I can comfortably work from home. My digital business is basically built for this moment. I'm an adult with reliable transportation.  I'm neither abused nor abusive. My family is intact and my emotional health is good. 

I could do this social distancing thing for another six months, because I never shut down. It's easy to forget the furloughed single mom or the trauma nurse in Brooklyn.

They are having a far different experience than mine that is just as valid. When we dismiss the experience of our neighbors, we cook up a gumbo of conflict and division that's bubbling over in Ohio as we reopen.

Going to our corners

The darker corners of our nature are calling Ohioans and we're answering. 

 "Did you see that Nazi liar on TV yesterday? He's trying to kill my business! I hate DeWine."

"...those mouth-breathers protesting at the state house... I hate those motherf*&^ers. They're idiots."

Quotes like these are not a good sign. Like the biology of COVID-19, this moment is incredibly complicated. Lots of things are true at precisely the same moment and simple answers just don't exist.

Our neighbors have to work and COVID-19 has killed nearly 90,000 in the U.S. alone. Kids have to go to school and COVID-19 is highly infectious. The economy is in real trouble and NYC used refrigerated semis to hold the bodies as they piled up.

"Who's to blame!? Where's the tar and feathers!?"

Can we do better? Or is this just what to expect?

If we want the former, we need to ask more constructive questions.

In her seminal essay from 2018 for the Solutions Journalism Network, Amanda Ripley called it complicating the narrative. Her work, which focused on what journalists could learn from hostage negotiators and crisis mediators, shook newsrooms around the country and it changed Richland Source as well. 

It all comes down to the questions we ask one another when we feel very far apart. In this time of understandable conflict and confusion, here are two tools we use at the Source to ask better questions.

Here's 22 questions you can ask that complicate the narrative.

And here's Amanda's incredible essay. It's required reading for our team at the Source. I guarantee it will make you a better conversationalist.

We can do this, friends.

Let's try to be the people that take the virus seriously at the same moment we support the businesses that open. Let's work to listen to each other instead of waiting to make our "big important point." Let's not confuse our personal liberties with a lack of common courtesy and empathy.

And most of all, let's remember that we're all stumbling through something none of us has ever experienced. We're gonna need to hold each other up now and then. 

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