Some Divisions Never Heal (and Why We Need to Put Our Differences Aside Now)
Austin, Minnesota, was, in the 1980s, a rural community symbolic of American ingenuity and entrepreneurial success in the meatpacking industry. The Hormel family had created a meat processing company in 1891, which became a model for the industry (you’ve heard of them; they make SPAM®).
There had been a relatively positive relationship between plant management and the workers. However, by the 1970s the relationship become bitter and hostile. In August 1985 the local union had the approval of the United Food and Commercial Workers to strike against the company over increases in injuries and pay cuts.
The year-long strike involved approximately 1,500 workers, and national media covered the bitter conflict. The event has been described as one of the significant labor struggles in the 1980s.
To this day the bitterness and animosity among families and within families has continued—those who supported the union and those who supported the company. Workers crossed the picket line and the painful split between pro-union and anti-union citizens has continued in Austin, a short drive from my home.
Families Are Bitterly Divided
Today, within families, we are battered and bludgeoned by the COVID-19 plague. There is a split between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated set against an almost malignant media overload on every dimension of the deadly variants with passionately held positions on both sides.
We all know someone who has attended a large gathering lately (a football game, perhaps) or has been going out to restaurants and bars or returning to the office. Summer brought a resurgence of travel on airplanes and to theme parks. You know these people and perhaps they are you.
So when that person developed vague symptoms or lost their sense of smell and taste—even after being vaccinated—the risks of bringing the virus to others increased. As did the criticism of the risky behavior by friends and family: “What were you thinking?” “We are all at risk now, thanks to you.”
Again, I am reminded of the Hormel strike and the bitter divisions.
Two camps of workers, pro-union and anti-union with widely divergent views, and now two camps of family members, one recognizing the risks of COVID and the other members of the family indifferent to the risks.
In these situations, no solution is ideal, but this is an opportunity for an honest and frank discussion, thoughtful recognition of each person’s position. But with an emphasis on the data. If we are fully vaccinated, 99% of individuals are protected from a lethal infection with COVID. Among patients who are critically ill and admitted to an intensive care unit because of COVID, almost none are vaccinated.
At the end of the day, we each need to weigh the pros and the cons and the risks and benefits of our behaviors to ourselves and others. We may not be marching in picket lines, but our lives hang in the balance.