The Better Part of Valour

We are at a strange place in this pandemic. More hospitalizations than ever. But fewer people on respirators. It’s five a.m. and I already have a handful of students home with the virus. The messages ticked in on my work app overnight. I expect more.

My back aches and I’m still dealing with night sweats. Wondering if I need to find a test. Wondering what the rules are this week for all that. The loosening of the rules means a heightening of anxiety. More personal responsibility, I guess.

In Norwegian, the word for discretion is more commonly used than it is in English. At least that’s my impression. When my supervisor at work refuses to give me a clear guideline on a sticky issue: “Bruk skjønn”. I know then I risk being thrown under the bus if things go sideways. “Bruk skjønn” when the representatives of government institutions choose to bend the rules: the personal discretion of bureaucrats. At least when rules seem unfair, they don’t feel personal. Or dependent on the quality of the morning’s cup of coffee, or traffic. Or whether you remind someone of their mother-in-law. Whether you are someone’s mother-in-law. Whether your party is “safer” than someone else’s funeral. Use your own discretion.

What is already uncertain/imperfect information becomes arbitrary fragments and soundbites when we are making decisions based on a social media game of ear-to-ear where every guppy becomes a werewolf.

If I’ve learned anything these past two years, I’ve learned to acknowledge my own wisdom – and my own ignorance. I’ve spent more of my conscious hours in grey zones. Accepting. I no longer have the same need to assert my opinions on every complex issue. I think about what happens when I write. How my thoughts become somehow more clearly defined. More “real”. When shared or spoken, they become something to defend. They take on an even greater illusion of solidity. I’ve heard myself making surprising statements I suddenly feel obligated to believe. But I don’t. Not really. It’s dangerous.

Once you pick a side, plant a flag, take a stand… it becomes all too real. I think there is a reason Buddhists focus on right speech. What is nothing more than thought & air has flesh and blood consequences.

Watching the public discourse would be like watching a farse if the stakes weren’t so high.

I remind myself to let go of the anxiety. I meditate on a stormy sea calming to a reflective surface. I see my own shame. Deal with it.

I can’t take them back, all the words, but I can move forward with more care.

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  1. I know what you mean about words, once spoken, being very different to written or thought words. On the other hand, the pandemic and the political situations and positions around it, makes us take a stand, even if we’re not consciously, absolutely, doing so. Your post can itself be interpreted as a political post – when those who make laws ask citizens to use their discretion at times of emergency, they’re evading responsibility, they’re making any bad consequences of that discretion the responsibility of individuals rather than of government (exactly as you say). We have that here in the UK to its fullest extent, where no part of the pandemic has been managed at all effectively by government (and the success of vaccinations has been despite the government not because of it). I could go on, but I won’t. Take care.

    • I found out today that another school did a theater production when most of the cast tested positive. (Heresay, mind you). “bruk skjønn” – we all have our priorities and they all differ. I have so many opinions about what it is to live in a community and the obligations that go with the perks. But that’s another realm for words 😉

  2. “I no longer have the same need to assert my opinions on every complex issue.”
    It’s funny to hear you say that, because I’ve made much the same sort of transition over the past two years. Curious.

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