I remember reading Tip O’Neil’s biography many years ago in which he said there are two kinds of people -- those who see someone walking down the street and deliberately cross the street to avoid them and those that greet you with a smile or a hello. I have always considered myself the type of person who would greet anyone that I encounter.
I am a runner and I always greet another runner, walker, or biker as I run by. Although some people are not always receptive to it, if they are running the same route at the same time every day, I usually break them down and get a smile out of them. Now with COVID-19, I have been forced to become the kind of person that Tip O’Neil talked about that will deliberately cross the street to avoid you. I find myself now criss-crossing to each side of the street when I see people, like I would never do before. I understand how important this is to keep everyone safe. But eventually when this crisis is over, I hope most people won’t cross the street so often.
On July 2 on WGBH 2 at 10 p.m., and on July 4 on WGBX 44 at 6 p.m., “Divided We Fall: Unity Without Tragedy” will air in Boston. This is a television docuseries where Americans discuss what divides us and how we can ultimately come together. This docuseries will show ordinary Americans wrestling with what it truly means to be an American, the divides that prevent it, and what we can do to bridge the gaps.
I am a cast member of Divided We Fall (along with 11 other Massachusetts residents, with a corresponding cast of 12 from Chicago). When we filmed the show, I loved the idea that no one was going to “cross the street” to avoid you although we had different political ideologies. By being engaged in a scenario where we were supposed to talk with people of the opposite political ideology, we found out that we weren’t so different and we wanted the same things, but just had a different way to achieve them. We were forced to open our ears and eyes and listen actively to one another as well as have empathy for each other.
America is purposely made up of different ethnicities and cultures, therefore the divide that this county faces is inevitable if we do not find ways to communicate. Divided We Fall did just that and hopefully will be a stepping stone to initiate many more conversations throughout America to lessen the divide we face as Americans. I hope that people in our region will tune in and see how this is possible.
Diann Slavit Baylis is an attorney, mom and Democratic activist. She lives in Topsfield.