Last week, my wife and I had to bring our eldest daughter to the hospital. If you’ve never watched a toddler scream as a catheter was put in (twice); yell, “Don’t touch me!” and “No, I don’t want to!” dozens of times; and suffer through near-failure of her kidney, count yourself fortunate.
But in the midst of this gut-wrenching chaos, my wife and I felt safe as we slept in the hospital room. We felt our daughter was in good hands as complete strangers came and went – doctors, medical students, nurses, techs, clerical workers, janitors, and food staff. Her life very well may have been saved by the urgent care nurse practitioner who said we should take Charlotte to the ER, which began the painful but necessary journey through the above trauma.
There were 6.6 million hospital workers in late 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost all of them cared for people they didn’t know – complete strangers. Until last week, our daughter was one of those strangers to the many people involved in her care.
No less a parental nightmare than a hospital stay is kidnapping. We’ve all heard how scary society is – that you just can’t trust people anymore, they say. However, extrapolating from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 2020 report on the 29,800 cases of missing children with which it assisted last year, fewer than 2,000 of them were kidnapped – out of the 48.8 million American children who are 11 and under.
Other information reminds me that our real and serious divisions on morality, culture, politics, and economics hide the decency of most Americans. I drive through the Washington, D.C., metro area fairly regularly – and I regularly claim that I hate the drivers. But of the hundreds of cars that I go near during these trips, only a handful of drivers seem to think we’re in a race (or don’t seem to have a turn signal). Despite 4.1 million cars in the D.C. Metro area as of 2018 – all of which seem to be on the road at the same time I am – car accidents caused less than one fatality per 100 million miles driven in Maryland and Virginia that year.
People returning to concerts, airport travel, beaches, and amusement parks after the easing of pandemic restrictions clearly believe that most people are good – from the airport employees to the people we stand in line behind and in front of, or lie next to on the beach. Two million people per day went through airport checkpoints in July, reported NBC – and, yes, many of those people were impatient and perhaps angry at mask users or mask avoiders. But virtually all of those same 2 million daily travelers got to their destination safely and soundly.
These statistics bolster most Americans’ everyday experience – at the grocery store, at the bank, at church, and at school. We don’t know it, but we trust most of the people we walk by. And despite the real differences between us, we should trust each other – individually and as a whole. Our society is full of decent people like the nurses caring for my daughter, the strangers who opened their house to my family while we are far from home — people who are doing the best they can in their individual and community lives. If we remember this as we address divisions on politics, race, and religion, perhaps we’ll be able to find ways to survive and thrive together.