Letters from Lockdown: Look Each Other In The Eye

Dear you,

I’m addressing you as a you because that’s what you are. You’re a person; a human being. Yet you’re also a you because that’s what lockdown has made you. Without face or name, you’ve become an indistinguishable person. You’re more than an individual. Yet you’re also less than one. You’ve become a crowd. And what I’ve noticed about lockdown is that you’ve been split into two faceless crowds. Like my most painful tooth extraction, you’ve become a bifurcated you. On one hand, you see our greatest need to be the protection of our rights. On the other hand, you see that to be a society means giving up our rights out of our obligations to one other.

And you’re right. Humans are meant to live with a center. Perhaps you could call this a soul. You’re meant to be integrated both as a society and as a person. But as the wisdom of Facebook has said, “the lockdown has brought out the worse in us.” One of these is the bifurcation of our souls. Someone who struggles with bipolar disorder struggles to exist. Do you think that you can cut off your other half without harming yourself?

I know that your other half seems to be a demon. It’s annoying. It lies. It didn’t save up the money you’d work so hard to earn. It blew it on whiskey and clubs and $10 avocado sandwiches and Netflix. Isn’t housing unaffordable enough? It tells horrible jokes. Jokes like, “the government can’t tell us what to do. Lockdowns don’t work. Live free!” You want to laugh in its face. It’s easy to demonize him. Especially when he shows up at a protest the next weekend. Damn. Just when you thought you’d locked him at home, he gives you the finger. He’s the reason you got in this lockdown mess in the first place.

I know your other half seems to be a demon. It’s cruel. It’s a tyrant. Every day, it seems to crack its whip at you, driving you further towards despair. It whispers lies like “being a good person means listening to everything the government says.” “Protesting the lockdown means that you only care about happiness of the majority.” “You should’ve saved up and gotten a job you Centerlink bum.” It seethes with resentment at every line that isn’t toed. You’ve worn yourself out listening to it for much of your life after school. But there’s been nothing to show for it. Instead of freedom, there’s tyranny. Instead of happiness there’s only mediocre conformity. He’s the reason you got in the lockdown in the first place.

Order and chaos. Rights and responsibilities. The ethical and the aesthetic. Conservative and liberal. These paradoxes capture the struggle of what it means to be human. This is the tension between truth and love. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes love hurts the truth. It can be maddening living with that tension. I know it keenly myself. But I believe that’s what we’re made for. You see, life is a constant struggle to integrate these two halves of yourself spiritually. The ethical and the aesthetic part of life are the melody and harmony which consummates in the ultimate religious life — what’s transcendent and beyond all values, God himself.

One of the things about media like the press or Facebook is that it all takes place behind closed doors. You can post under digital identities to people you’ve never met or heard of. You can participate in causes beyond your time and country. The anonymity of distance means that you can become someone and something else. You can engage with other people who are just this faceless Other, someone less than you. And so you can let fly whatever corrupting impulses you feel at a particular moment into the internet void towards people who are no longer people.

Media especially social media tries to eradicate this tension of being human. It amplifies extremes. It gives your natural corrupting urges a platform to be heard at any moment. And it reinforces these impulses to be who you really are. There’s no center to you. Just one polar ideology that demonizes the Other. And so you’re either proud or disgusted, elated or angry, jubilant or despairing.

Dear you, please look beyond social media. Look each other in the eye. Because what you see is who you are. In hating them, you’re just hating yourself. It’s not hard to imagine that you wouldn’t act differently given the circumstances. Neither our rights nor responsibilities makes us who we are, but it is before God that I am and that you are. You’re neither protestor or persecutors, neither anarchist or tyrant. Look each other in the eye. Really look. Only then will you be able to see the log in your own eye and pick the speck out of your brother’s. Only then will you be able to be integrated, one and whole. Look each other in the other eye. And look to God. That’s your greatest need.

From one human you to another,

Nathan

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