Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Grace vs. Fear: A Sign of the Times

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, July 6 / 20

Zack Gross

It has been said too often that we live in interesting times.  A generation ago, I had a co-worker at the Marquis Project who said, whenever something vexing arose, “We live in interesting times
.” And today, we still hear that mantra as a throw-away slogan in our time of COVID and Black Lives Matter.  It may just be another way of saying “It is what it is.”  But, can we handle it better than we do?

For the record, I don’t support COVID in any way, and try my best to avoid it as someone who meets all the vulnerability markers to catch it and die from it.  As for BLM, of course it has had my support, to the best of my ability, forever, and any shortcomings on my part are being worked on.  I believe that our lives are like our houses.  We live in them and enjoy them, but we must keep on assessing and repairing the problems that crop up, including our biases.

I’ve been teaching a university course on-line over the spring/summer and given the times, I’ve asked my students, who range from the just-out-of-high-school types to some mature adults with children, what their thoughts and experiences are about both the virus and racism.  For COVID, the response has been somewhat predictable, in that many feel isolated as everything is locked down, they have little money, miss their friends and social lives, and weren’t expecting to study at a laptop computer instead of in face-to-face classroom situations.

On racism, even as a somewhat critically-minded social activist, I was surprised at the stories they told, from the perspective particularly of indigenous and black students.  It is not unusual to be followed around a store when they are shopping as they are seen as potential shoplifters.  It often happens that people won’t sit next to them on the bus, and sometimes mean-minded comments are made by unfriendly citizens as to why.  And, at work, they are often paid less and given the worst jobs to do.  Many of these jobs are in restaurants and coffee shops or in front-line service positions, such as in seniors homes.

Yet, what I found in my students is a sense of “grace,” not so much of outrage, that in the future, education and love can move our human family toward warmer human relations and greater justice.  Something bad might happen to you but to achieve a state of grace, you can rationally and hopefully choose a measured and positive response to it.

On the other side of the equation, one sees comments on social media and in the conventional news outlets that are not so graceful.  I observed one posting quoting Nikita Khrushchev, who was First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in the 1950s and '60s, and died 50 years ago.  At the time, Mr. K said that eventually the Soviets would overcome the West.  Probably, these words parroted similar epithets hurled at him by Western leaders during the Cold War.  Of course, a lot of water has flown under the bridge all these years later, and there is no Soviet Union, but the person posting this piece is sure that the events of 2020 prove that the Communists are taking over now!

One also sees posts, letters to the editor, and bumper stickers suggesting terrible things that could be done to our political leaders, at home and abroad.  Many of the comments are actually repostings coming out of the US.  As even-handed Canadians and friendly Manitobans, I believe they are unworthy of us. 
Of course, we do live in interesting times!  People are on edge, fearful of their health, their employment, missing their friends and family.  Prices for food have gone up, many businesses are closed, maybe permanently.  Kids have been home from school trying to learn, with their parents as teachers.  Summer vacations and many camps are on hold.  We are learning that when a pandemic arises, many social ills also have a light shone on them.  In the course I teach, even before COVID, we learned that your economic status can determine your personal and social health.

It is a time to pull together, especially as there are now forces – of circumstance but also of ideology – that will try to pull us apart.  We are learning from BLM and from Indigenous groups that we are already apart and need to learn or relearn our past in order to move forward together.  This can be a dialogue.  It doesn’t have to be a battle.  Each of us needs to choose.

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Manitoba-based international development organization.

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