It is definitely fall in Sumter, South Carolina. It may be that after the last 18 months I’m just paying more attention, but the changing of the leaves seem to be more dramatic this year. As I’m typing this, I’m looking out the office windows at brilliant yellows, oranges and one deep-red dogwood. While I’m a summer person, this part of fall also excites me.
As a child, my father was very involved in birddog field trials. These trials involved hunting dogs that would be run in pairs around a large piece of hunting property in what is known as a brace. The dogs are to hunt for quail that have been placed on the property in advance and are judged on various aspects of their hunting ability. Each dog has a handler and a scout that keep the dog going in the right direction. There are two judges that follow along and decide which dogs are best that day. Since the dogs cover so much ground, so fast, everyone follows along on horseback, including a gallery of others along to watch.
My dad often took me along, and I eventually earned the chance to be scout and do other tasks to help with the weekend. I’m fond of saying that I grew up on the back of a horse, following a dog, hunting a bird.
I had the chance to take my kids to a field trail in Camden this past weekend. Some of my dads old buddies were there and within minutes those field trial grounds felt comfortable and at home to me, even after almost 30 years. I got the most joy out of watching my kids make quick friends with a few other children there and run around playing, exploring and enjoying being outside on an amazing fall day. It was a great weekend as I got to see the joy in my kids faces that my dad surely saw in mine all those years ago.
I’ve been a member of the Sumter Rotary club for 14 years now, and have served in pretty much every role, including Club President. Rotary Internationals big global campaign is the campaign to eradicate Polio from the face of the Earth. As I’ve watched the news about COVID vaccines, and their acceptance in society (or lack there of), I can’t help but compare it to how readily the population accepted the Polio vaccine in the 1950’s. At first, I attributed much of the vaccine hesitancy on the speed with which the vaccines were developed. The Polio vaccine had been studied and researched as far back as 1932. Several vaccines were announced, but failed in large scale testing. It was 1952 when Jonas Salk and researchers at The University of Pennsylvania announced the first effective vaccine on CBS radio. Even then, it took three years of testing before a national vaccination campaign rolled out.
The COVID vaccines, as we all know, we're rolled out in less than a year of the emergence of the virus. I think that many have feared the unknown of something produced so quickly. I’ve suspected that there is more to this, but have been unable to adequately put my finger on it until last week. I was driving somewhere and there was a caller to a radio show who said something very profound. I’ve been thinking about it since and I think he nailed it. I wish I would have heard the beginning of the call so that I could give him credit. So what follows is my summary of what some caller to some radio show said last week.
What’s the difference between 1955, when people voluntarily showed up to get their polio vaccine shot (and importantly their kids shots, as kids were more affected than adults), and 2021 when 40 some odd percent of the population is refusing to get the vaccine, even risking losing their job over it? Lack of trust in the institutions around us! Lack of trust of the government, pharmaceutical companies, and the media.
I think he nailed it. Unfortunately, this virus was politicized almost as fast as it showed up. President Trump announced a ban on travel from China on January 31st, 2020 in an effort to slow the spread. On February 24, 2020 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked through San Francisco’s Chinatown saying, "We feel safe and sound with so many of us coming here. It's not only to say it's safe but to say thank you for being Chinatown.” By March 15th, much of the country started to be forced into shutdowns, with schools closed, sporting events canceled, restaurants shut down and on and on. The political back and forth over the virus and the reactions to the virus only devolved from there.
I don’t have to say much about why people distrust either the pharmaceutical companies or the media. It’s a shame that institutions that we used to trust have behaved so poorly over the last several decades that we take everything they say with grain of salt. We look at all of their actions through the prism of “what are they wanting from us.” And even more sadly, they seem to be doubling down on actions to sow more distrust.
We have a worker shortage in the US right now. Yet, the President is looking to force businesses to fire employees who won’t get the vaccine. That’s no way to build trust. The guidance has continued to shift - don’t wear a mask, you must wear a mask, you don’t need a mask if you're vaccinated, now you do need to wear a mask even if you’re vaccinated, but only inside. I get it that science is continually evolving as we learn more. But, they should have come out from the start and said, “We’re trying to figure this out. We don’t know for sure, but we think this may be your best course of action.” Be honest with people and treat them like adults, not petulant 1st graders.
I also think that this distrust of institutions is driving the interest and growth in crypto assets. I’m working on a piece about crypto, but it’s changing so fast, I’ve had to rewrite it a few times. But, I think there is a growing distrust of the global Central Banks and the larger corporate banks that most people deal with. Actions like the desire for banks to report all transactions in accounts that happen to have more than a $600 transaction in a year to the IRS just erode that trust that much more. I’ll get more into crypto in the future, if I can ever get that writing finalized.
I really don’t want to be all doom and gloom. I’m a very optimistic person about our long term future. I think that we’re on the verge of some massive innovation that will benefit humanity in ways that we can barely fathom. But, we’ve got to get there. So - what can we do about this lack of faith in our institutions? I’m afraid not much in the short term. Instead, don’t mind them. Rather, go out and spend time with the people in your community. Go take a cake to your neighbors. Go to church. Check out a local play or Christmas concert. Find a civic organization to get involved in like Rotary, Kiwanis, The Pilot Club, or one of the many other groups looking for members.
You see, while I also share a distrust of our institutions, I trust the American people. I trust my friends and family. With the adaptation of social media and multiple 24/7 media outlets, we’re losing connection with our real community. I suspect that when we reconnect and find our community again, we will reset those institutions. I feel like these institutions have been trying to pull us into different corners (race, political affiliation, sexual preference, heck they're even tearing at us about our own biological sex). And we’re letting them do it to us.
Last weekend, while at that field trial, I had no idea who voted for who (except the one guy with the Trump hat on). I didn’t ask a single person if they were gay or trans, because I didn’t care. We were there because of our love of the outdoors, the animals and the sport of field trialing. That’s what real community is. It felt awesome to be around people who had a similar interest as me. People I could connect to.
This weekend, we’re taking the kids up to their first ever Clemson football game. We’ve driven through Clemson a few times and they’ve seen the stadium from the outside, but they’ve never experienced game day. I’m looking forward to being in a community of 80,000 friends who share my love for college football, namely Clemson football.
I want to encourage you to get out and experience real community, too. We can’t restore our faith in the larger institutions until we restore our faith in our neighbors. Once we restore our faith in each other, we can show up at city and county council meetings. We can, as a community, work with our school boards and our local media. This is our community and our country, let’s work together to make it better, not tear it apart.
As I step off of my soap box.
I hope that you can get out and enjoy this beautiful fall weekend. I don’t expect to write next week, as the kids have a short week and we have a lot going on for Thanksgiving. So, I’ll take this chance to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. We all have so much to be thankful for. Even though who are struggling with issues, please remember that there are so many around the world who are dealing with so much worse. We truly are blessed to be Americans!