Now that the weather’s nice, people are breaking the rules far more flagrantly. Which can be stressful if you let it.
Early on in the pandemic I read a tweet about someone whose partner had died suddenly last year (unrelated to pandemics, if you can believe such a thing ever existed). And she said that in the weeks and months that followed, she moved through life in a daze, only to be frequently tutted or shouted at by strangers for doing things like standing in front of train doors when they opened or picking up her bags too slowly at the supermarket.
She told this story to illustrate the point that you don’t know what someone else is going through and that perhaps there is some legitimate reason or genuine mistake at play – rather than out and out malice. Kind of like that time I accidentally left my house without a mask and drowned in shame about it for a week, but anyone who saw me could have been like what an asshole.
I suppose the problem is that you can’t tell the difference between the innocent and the guilty just by looking at them, so you kind of have to let everyone slide if you’re hoping to practice compassion. Even those ones that you’re so certain are guilty.
Like those big groups of people in the park. Or those people inviting others round to their houses. Or those scumbags we vote into national leadership.
But say you were right about their guilt, where would you draw the line? Would it be ok to hope they get caught? If they did, would it be ok to laugh at their misfortune? What about when someone you’re very sure is guilty gets the virus? Is it ok to indulge in the schadenfreude? Is it too far to hope for their death? What if they really deserve it? Does compassion leave any space for comeuppance?
And what use is innocence anyway, when so often it’s the guilty who win?
A version of this post was sent by email on the 4th October 2020 as part of Internet Care Package – a weekly memoir project in the form of a newsletter. It also includes links to the best things I’ve found on the internet each week and occasional updates on my theatremaking. This blog is a select archive of those emails. Subscribe to get them right in your inbox.
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