2 years ago, we all decided to draw battle lines over a pandemic and a shot (or 4). There were many conversations (often very contentious) over a vaccination, whether we would or would not, with just as many reasons why or why not. The one I found most compelling was the one centered around a growing mountain of conflicting information. Scientific wisdom shifted almost daily, the evidence we staked our arguments upon became obsolete seemingly as soon as we adopted them.

But if we so much as suggested this confusion and mistrust, we were quickly branded anti-vaxxers, or right wing conspiracy theorists. I am neither. I had questions, concerns. I believe we all had some experience with this, no matter what we believed. No matter what questions we asked, they were met with wild aggression.

Now, the CDC is admitting that public guidance was “confusing and overwhelming.” Dr Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC, says, “we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications.”

I’m watching The Vow right now, an HBO documentary on the cult NXIVM. I’m sure I’ll talk more in depth about this a little later, once I finish the 9 episodes. But in the one I was watching this morning, a woman was speaking under the condition of anonymity to avoid the snap judgments she had faced. People were unbearably rude to her, calling her all sorts of nasty adjectives before (and often without) knowing her name. “How could someone be so stupid to willingly participate in a cult like this?” those on the outside asked.

I’m positive there are parallels as well as distinctions to make between the CDC and NXIVM, and I’m also positive I don’t want to make them. My concern is how it’s so easy for us to decide another’s why, so easy to lock another in boxes in which they can’t ever escape. We fought like animals (mostly on social media) because we all made assumptions about those whose only crime was to arrive at a different conclusion – and in my case, I hadn’t even arrived. Sometimes, the crime was to not agree fast enough.

When did honest questioning or respectful discourse become such terrible transgressions? I know this didn’t start in 2020, with Covid-19, but I don’t exactly care when it started. I do care about how it ends.

I have a good friend who is a transgender woman. As a white man, I know nothing at all about the perspective of a transgender woman, so I ask a lot, A LOT, of questions. And she, who is endlessly graceful, answers them all. And that is why we call each other ‘good friends.’ We don’t agree on everything, have vastly different experiences, homes, families, and we certainly don’t see the world through the same lenses, but we don’t have to. We just have to care for each other.

A monochromatic world is totally uninteresting. I don’t know why that woman chose to do the things she did in NXIVM, but I do know I’ve done things I regret for reasons that made sense at the time. The CDC is admitting they mishandled a situation in a big, high profile moment, but I don’t think they’re evil, and I don’t think they meant harm. They did the best with what they had when they had it. I don’t know that we did the same. Fear caused us to resort to cheap generalizations and instant uninformed judgment. Fear caused us to forget the honor and dignity inherent in being human. And fear caused us to build walls.

This nonsense only ends when we erase our battle lines, knock the walls down and open the cell doors to our shared humanity and the beauty of me & you, and start loving each other, even, especially, the differences.