American psychologist Abraham Maslow once surmised, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” Oftentimes, we take the latter option over the former out of mere convenience. The truth is too hard to accept when we do not want to acknowledge what is uncomfortable and growing requires effort we generally try to avoid. We live in a time where we find ourselves comfortably behind screens, posting things onto our favorite social media platforms to make statements about the people we value or the things we believe. Despite having myriad resources and an abundance of communication methods, the way we Americans have utilized social media has been nothing short of divisive. 

A simple disagreement over a trivial concern erupts into a chasm between the most and the least privileged among us. We vehemently dispute everything, from constitutionally protected rights to the issues of basic humanity. Many of us claim to love our neighbors, but we have a difficult time caring about our neighbors who do not worship, vote or look as we believe they should. As we move to put a bow and a final stamp on the calendar year of 2021, it is time for us all to do some introspection. 

Throughout the pandemic, we have learned a lot about the various forms of adversity. While some of us may have continued to make mortgage or rent payments without any hesitation, others were fortunate to receive assistance and an extended eviction moratorium to provide their families with shelter. While some families easily adjusted to the virtual learning environment for their school-aged children, others relied on the increased broadband connectivity options and technology provided by their respective neighborhood schools. While it may have been convenient to order merchandise or clothing from a giant retail store via online shopping, small family-owned brick-and-mortar businesses suffered financial losses we cannot fathom. 

Though it may have been easy for some to consent to receive vaccinations for a virus previously unknown, others—such as myself—reviewed data and consulted with medical professionals prior to submitting to receiving the Moderna vaccination. Though some may decry the dissemination of COVID relief stimulus payments, families across America received the opportunity to afford another meal or keep the electricity on during a crisis for which we were inadequately prepared. Just recall how vulnerable most of us Texans were during the winter storm power outage in February 2021. With schools and other public places wide open, it may seem as if we are back to normal. However, it would be unwise for us to assume all families are physically, emotionally or financially in the same place as before. 

This pandemic has taken a lot from a lot of people. Some of our loved ones are physically gone, our emotional health is waning, and our finances are stretched thin. The last thing we need tends to be the first thing we see when we scroll through social media platforms—judgment for the personal decisions we make. I know I am guilty of it myself. Perhaps we all need to remember to presume positive intent, especially during the holiday season. 

American psychologist and university professor Adam Grant posits, “Learning requires the humility to admit what you don’t know today. Unlearning requires the integrity to admit that you were wrong yesterday.” Regardless of our perceived level of expertise on any issue, let us strive to understand and be tolerant of another person’s viewpoint. 

I personally love a fact-based debate. However, I believe we all need to spend more time listening to rather than shouting at one another. This pandemic and the political rancor within it have already taken far too much of our empathy and civility. It is time for us to return to the table of brother- and sisterhood and learn from one another again. The only way forward is to work together. Growth usually occurs in discomfort. 

This year, like the last, was mentally, spiritually and physically exhausting for most of us. But we fortunately find ourselves possessing a resilient faith and a relentless volition to do more than simply survive. Let us press forward collaboratively to identify ways and create systems which enable us all to thrive.

Author

  • Patrick Miller

    Patrick Miller is President of the Amarillo Branch NAACP and assistant principal at Eastridge Elementary. In 2021, he completed a 6-year term on the Amarillo College Board of Regents, to which he was elected at the age of 25. He has earned Master’s degrees in both teaching and educational leadership from WTAMU and has served in a variety of leadership roles within the Amarillo Independent School District.