By David Hegg
At one point in my life I was an athlete. I was never the star of the team, but I played, added to the team effort, and learned the many lessons athletics teach. I remember the first time I engaged in some extracurricular shoving and pushing on the basketball court in elementary school. My coach, Mr. Jones, who would go on to coach me in baseball for several summers, took me out of the game, sat me down next to him, and gave me a lecture I’ve never forgotten.
The result of my anger on the court was free throws for the other team, free throws that were successful and ended up being their margin of victory. My anger cost us the game.
Mr. Jones did what good coaches do. He explained that my actions were not only poor sportsmanship, but also meant defeat for my team. I remember pleading my case. “But the other guy started it when he gave me an elbow the referee never saw! What was I supposed to do? Let him get away with it?”
It was then that I learned a lesson so valuable it has stuck with me for 50 years. Mr. Jones replied, “It’s almost never the case that the first action matters as much as your reaction to it. You can’t control what happens to you, but you must control how you respond.”
Over the years I’ve seen that simple admonition play itself out in many different situations. No matter what happens to us, it’s our response that matters most.
Take, for example, this COVID-19 pandemic that has taken over our lives. Everywhere we turn we’re hit with both the reality and the mystery of a little bug that is changing the way we live. We didn’t create the situation, we didn’t plan for it, and we certainly don’t deserve it. Like my elementary basketball situation, we didn’t start it, but we’re all responding to it. And we’re learning it’s our response that matters most.
Here’s what I’m seeing. There are some people, and we all know who they are, who live for chaos. They’re the ones who always know the latest news about tragedies, lives that are leaking, and injustices. Their favorite pastime is cluck clucking about the latest scandal, the latest mess, and the latest, greatest humiliation in the news. Sadly, if the day doesn’t present some chaos, they all too often create some because their lives are meaningless without something being wrong. These folks are having a field day with COVID-19. They range from hyping all the bad news to mocking those who are taking the whole thing too seriously. Either way, you don’t want them near you since the contagion they’re spreading, while not physically debilitating, will simply ruin your emotional equilibrium.
On the other hand are those who are just sure the whole thing is some conspiracy and will turn out to be about as much of a problem as Y2K. Remember the last few months of 1999? Life as we know it was going to come to an end as the computers failed to adjust to a new date. And, the government was going to take advantage of the chaos to steal our land, our money, and our very lives. Oy vey!
So, what’s my point? Just this. Neither panic nor denial will work. What we need are two simple things. First, our response to the reality of COVID-19 should be informed, thoughtful, measured and consistent. Second, we need to love our neighbors and look out for each other. Yes, this pandemic will take time to run its course, and yes, many of us will get sick, and yes, we will exist as a people after COVID-19 has gone the way of the swine flu. But what will matter when we are privileged to have hindsight is how we responded to the virus, and to one another.
So, how about we get our heads on straight, understand that we all have to withstand some inconvenience, perhaps endure some physical suffering, and certainly need to look out for those we know who are in the high-risk groups. But ultimately, we just need to make sure that our response to the problem is helpful, not only for ourselves, but for one another.
Adversity comes into every life, and every society. What matters most is the way we respond to it for our response will mean our challenges either divide or unite us. I vote for coming together and vowing this bug will never cause us to be less caring, less united and less prudent.
Let’s do what is best for our families, our community, and our nation, and shove any selfishness to the margins of our lives. If we do that, we’ll look back and see how circumstances that could have defeated us actually made us stronger. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m almost to the front of the line and it looks like I’ll score some toilet paper!
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.