So, it’s been almost two years since a global pandemic was declared. I see myself typing that, but I can hardly believe it’s been that long.

To say that it’s been a hard two years would be a major understatement. It’s been challenging, painful, severe (and other words I found in the thesaurus).

Personally, I got the dang coronavirus twice. Yuck. The first time seemed to take forever to get over. My whole family got it. The aches and pains, the fatigue, the loss of taste and smell. It sucked.

Then, seven months later, I got it again. Not nearly as bad, of course, but it set me back a few days.

My aunt wasn’t as lucky as I was. She got it, went to the hospital, and never came home. My cousin followed her to eternity shortly after. Then, my lifelong friend Jason passed away from it just a few weeks later.

Losing someone you love is like having a piece of your heart torn out and, no matter how hard you try to repair it, that piece is still missing, and it just hurts like hell.

But, this pandemic will pass. In fact, the numbers, in the state I live in, are dropping rapidly, and our mask and vaccine mandates are expiring at the end of the month.

However, I’ve seen something emerge from this pandemic that I’m afraid will linger long after the virus is no longer a serious threat. And, in my opinion, will cause lasting damage that is more severe and dramatic than the losses I’ve already faced.

It’s the toxic cocktail of fear and judgment. I’ve never seen more of either in my entire life.

We fear what we don’t understand. We judge what we don’t understand. We judge what we fear. I’ve seen people act out of fear and judgement in ways that have destroyed health, close churches, done psychological harm, and even split families.

Let me give you an example. Someone fears that their rights are being taken away, so they post a meme on social media that makes a judgement about the president. It alienates half their friends, and then they wonder why those people don’t want to get together anymore.

Or, someone judges those who decline the vaccine, calling them unloving or science deniers. So, their friends who opted out because they have natural immunity, or whose doctors have advised them to wait, feel judged and misunderstood, and the divide becomes greater.

I’ve heard people call mask-wearers idiots (more judgement). I’ve seen people refuse to allow family members in their home because they’re not vaccinated (fear).

For churches, it’s been “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.” When churches decided to require masks and social distancing, they lost members who didn’t want to mask up. When churches decided to let people decide for themselves about masks and social distancing, they lost members who didn’t feel the church was doing enough to keep those virus-laden droplets in check. In a place that is supposed to be free of fear and judgement, the toxic duo ran rampant, and those who needed the church suffered because fearful, judgmental people took their volunteer time, their financial support, and their gifts and talents elsewhere. Everyone lost because of fear and judgement.

Most of us live with a strange confidence that our bias is right, and conflicting biases are wrong. It’s tragic, really. When we encounter someone with a different bias, we fear and/or judge them.

Maybe it’s the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s a cognitive bias in which people believe that they’re smarter than they really are. People read a few news headlines and watch a few YouTube videos, and suddenly they’re medical experts who think everyone should respond to the pandemic they way they believe is best, or they’re wrong.

It’s strange. I knew a congressman. He died a couple of years ago. I used to love to chat about politics with him. You know what? He never spoke with the kind of over-confident, judgmental tone that most non-politicians I know speak with. I also know many pastors (and have been one myself for 25 years). None of the pastors I know speak with the authority and high-mindedness that critics of the church do. Even the medical professionals I know do not speak about the pandemic with the kind of confidence and passion that people who have read a few news articles do.

I think, when we’re operating out of fear and judgement, we forget something important. We forget that we don’t know everything. We forget that we’re wrong. In fact, we get so much in life wrong that it’s astounding. An old friend used to tell me, “When we get to heaven, we’re going to find out we were all wrong.” I wish we didn’t have to wait until we got to heaven to discover that.

What’s my point? most people don’t know jack. The experts I know acknowledge that they don’t know everything. What makes you (or me) think that you can take a complex, global issue, with infinite nuances and facets, and judge someone for not responding the way you would? Maybe it’s that Dunning-Kruger effect.

Whatever the reason, if we are going to keep this toxic mix of fear and judgement from wreaking destruction for many more years to come, we have to do a couple of things.

First, we need to acknowledge that we’re wrong. That’s what wise, humble people do. They admit they don’t know everything. They’re humble enough to change their stance if new evidence presents itself. At the very least, they can say, “I might be wrong here.” And that possibility makes it easier to respect those with a different perspective than you. Come on. Say it with me, “I might be wrong.”

Second, we need to develop better personal observation skills. I know this is next level, but you can do it. Recognize when you’re responding in fear. Catch yourself when you’re being judgmental, and call yourself out on it. Some people like to hear themselves speak, but they seldom really like to listen to themselves. Are you using judgmental language? Are you accusing others of being unloving, being an idiot, being uncaring, egotistical, arrogant, dishonest? Do you catch yourself believing that you can do it better than the person you’re criticizing? Try to catch yourself using fearful or judgmental language so that you can make a mental course correction.

This stuff is important! We, and future generations, need us to shed off fear and judgement.

And, for the love of all that is holy, stop cutting people out of your life over pandemic-related stuff. You’re doing more damage than a virus ever could.

But, I could be wrong. 🙂