Over the weekend I came across an insightful article that addresses one of my personal concerns as stay-at-home restrictions are loosened in many places: What if my friends and I don’t agree on how to socialize during this phase of the pandemic?

Admittedly, the article is from Midwestern Seminary and is aimed at churches, with advice for how to navigate operations and relationships. But this line, from Midwestern Seminary VP Charles Smith stood out to me because it will certainly affect us all, no matter our religious faith or what kind of organizations we participate in:

Prediction: one of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we’re not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different. 

My daughter has a birthday in July, and I’ve already thought about hosting a small, but in-person party for her, but, depending on how the whole pandemic is going, I fear judgment from some of our more cautious friends who might think this is inappropriate. There will be myriad situations like this unfolding in families and social groups across the country.

We will sometimes disagree with people who are very close to us about what’s appropriate and what’s not moving forward. In some cases, I expect this may weaken our relationships with those who aren’t on the same page with us (and maybe strengthen relationships with those who are).

Understandably, some people have more reason to be cautious. People with underlying medical conditions, who are older, or who live in households with these more at-risk groups will likely want to continue to limit their interaction with people outside of their households. But every individual has his/her tolerance for isolation, and COVID isn’t the only risk to our health and wellbeing.

Interestingly, optimism and caution about the pandemic track somewhat along partisan lines, with Republicans tending to be more optimistic and Democrats tending to be more concerned. Part of this may be due to the fact that more Republicans live in less densely populated rural areas and more Democrats live in more densely populated cities where it may be easier for the virus to spread. I explored other reasons for the partisan divide over the pandemic here.

But whatever our reasons for our choices in the next phase, strict social distancing during the course of the past 6-7 weeks has likely grown our gratitude for friendship and its important role in our lives. Even before COVID, America faced a crisis of alienation and atomization, marked by weakened family ties, troubling levels of drug addition and increasing suicide rates.

The Midwestern Seminary article ends with a series of important conclusions that I thought were too good not to share here. I will strive to keep these conclusions in mind moving forward (as well as Charles Smith’s advice to extend lots of grace):

Optimistic people are a blessing to my life. Cautious people are a blessing to my life. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective. People matter more than my opinion.

Words to live by.