Have you ever noticed how contagious a yawn can be? I have a friend who thinks that some animals can even catch our yawns. While I'm not sure about that, I have found other things that can be just as contagious as a yawn but much more serious. Lately the world is concerned about the fast spreading coronavirus. It is shutting down cities across the world and is expected to spread much more widely over the coming months. I am however more concerned about a much more dangerous contagion, one that is tearing our society apart: the contagion of indignation. I'm sure you've seen and experienced it.
These days we are all wound up so tightly, ready to pounce on anyone who appears to disagree with our viewpoint or anyone who uses one of a thousand trigger words. Our society has become like a warehouse of fireworks where the smallest spark could set it all alight. What I find concerning is that the indignation can be so easily transferred to others, both to those who view the world similarly to ourselves and to those we might disagree with. It spreads through everyone like wildfire, causing us to automatically close our ears, label one another and seethe with "righteous" anger. We are all like dry tinder needing only a spark to explode.
The challenge is that the way to diffuse the indignation starts with ourselves. While everything within us may want to point the finger and expect the other to change, that is not going to happen. The only way to keep the indignation from spreading is for each of us to become incombustible. This means to allow another to explode with anger and to not respond in kind. It requires us to be the fire break. To be gracious to those who react wrongly, who accuse, blame and misrepresent us. We must not feed their fire, but be patient until it subsides understanding that behind their anger is simply fear. The only way we will stop this contagion from spreading is to look beyond the drama, see the humanity of the other, to address our own fears and to refuse to be pulled into the angry madness which sends us all on the path to self-destruction.