A common theme in my life is feeling a lack of confidence in my ability to handle challenging situations I believe I have never faced before. This time is different, I may think. The problem I am challenged with today is one I am not prepared to manage. I discount the years of trials I have already overcome, and the resilience I may have demonstrated in the past. Again, I may think, that was different. It would be incredible if we could see what is changing and growing within the core of who we are each time we emerge from a deeply challenging circumstance.

Perhaps each heartbreak prepares us for future relationship conflicts, or those of others. Each failure teaches us how to better handle the next one. Every illness that passes helps us understand the transitory nature of our personal struggles. Until fall of 2019, I had never been a graduate student, and until fall of 2020, I had never been a doctoral student. Each new role I have taken up may not really be completely different from the adjustment to life as a married person, to new jobs, new volunteer positions, or motherhood at its varying stages.

Now I find myself facing the beginning of what I hope is a long and productive season as a researcher. I am experiencing many growing pains as I struggle and fail, learn and make progress. My brain tells me I have never done this before. But there are so many things I had never done before — until I did. And in many of those new roles, I have been very successful. Maybe you can relate to the fear or lack of confidence when taking on new roles and challenges in your life.

Unless we are approaching a century of life lived, we have never navigated the role of a person living through a pandemic. Many are touched by the direct effects of illness with COVID-19, for themselves or loved ones. And all of us are dealing with the public health challenges inherent in the varied responses to combatting the pandemic. Whether it be about masks, gathering, or other personal decisions, we are not only choosing whom we trust and what advice we follow. We are also continually confronted with individuals who feel very differently from us about what is true and what should be done.

We may say that this circumstance is different than any we have faced in our lives, which is indeed true for most everyone alive today. But what is not as new is the opportunity and challenge of relating to others with respect, while still upholding our own views of what is true and right. As adults, we are usually aware of significant differences in those around us regarding spiritual, political or scientific beliefs. The rich diversity of thought and opinion is valuable in our communities, in spite of some negative consequences we may find extremely troubling. Reality is that we think, reason, trust, believe and act differently. That has always been true and will always be true. We should not be surprised that this reality also applies to our varied responses to COVID-19.

Choosing what to do with this reality is our daily task. We can be angry and judgmental. We can be accepting and nonconfrontational. We can attempt to reason and persuade. We can quietly keep our opinions to ourselves. None of these approaches has all positive or all negative results. I would advocate for considering each potential response, and consciously choosing (daily, if needed) thoughts and actions which are based in kindness.

Kindness does not mean agreement or apathy. Kindness does not require silence or support when we deem something morally wrong. Rather, kindness is what shapes our approach, our attitude and our actions. Sometimes, it helps to consider what most angers us about how we are treated by those who disagree with us. Are any of those actions mirrored in our own, veiled by our belief that we are justified, though they are not? This mental process of becoming aware of our biases, of checking our actions, can lead to more effective dialogue, as well as an increase of emotional balance as we move forward.

Palmer is a doctoral student at the Universityof Idaho, who has been appreciating thediversity of thought on the Palouse since 2012.

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