Five days from now, Joe Newman of Sarasota, Florida, will turn 108 years old. Next month his fiancée, Anita Sampson, will turn 101. They met 17 years ago, when Joe was only 91 and Anita was a mere 84. Last year, Joe finally gave up driving his car. “You may be sad about that, Joe,” said Anita when they were interviewed for the Radio Diaries podcast series, “but I think lots of people are glad.” She laughed in the way people do when they are talking to the people they love.
Joe remembers the 1918 influenza pandemic. He remembers the death of a boy in his neighborhood who was about his age, and the sense of missing him after he died. Anita was not alive at the time, but she remembers stories from her mother about people “just lying there on the streets.” When asked by Anita to compare our present pandemic to the pandemic of his youth, Joe replies, “I take a philosophical view. It’s another event. It’s another problem. Over 107 years, I’ve faced other problems. Living is a problem. You do what you need to do to handle the problem that’s in front of you.”
In another one of my weekly letters to you, I mentioned the Google Ngram Viewer tool. It takes advantage of Google’s gargantuan document scanning project and tracks the ebbs and flows of word and phrase use over time. One of my favorite outputs of the tool is the “method versus feeling” graph. In the Enlightenment era of the late eighteenth century, use of the rationalist term “method” was ascendant. In the Romantic era of the early nineteenth century, however, use of the more emotional word “feeling” increased while the use of “method” decreased. In our present day, “feeling” is ascendant again.
Our present era is undeniably the Age of Emotion. Relative to our use of all other words, we now use the word “emotion” more than four times as often as we did as recently as 1980. The prevalence of emotionalism in contemporary American life at best impedes solutions to—and at worst exacerbates—the extensive social and political discord and dysfunction that challenge our nation. The latest excrescence of this dysfunction was the criminal and violent breach and invasion of our Capitol on Wednesday. I can think of no more precise definition of the difference between “reason” and “emotion” than the difference between a protest and a riot.
Joe Newman’s “philosophical view” of the coronavirus pandemic can convey two entirely different meanings depending on the adverb with which we modify its expression. One version—“‘It’s another problem,’ he said thoughtfully”—implies movement toward a solution. Another version—“It’s another problem,’ he said emotionally”—implies movement away from one. Joe Newman is older and wiser than the rest of us. He says it the first way, and that’s the way we are committed to discussing and addressing problems at MICDS as well—in the classroom or the hallway, on the playing field or the stage, within our community or beyond it, no matter how great or daunting. Always with reason, always with compassion, always with courage.
I wish you and your families a happy weekend.
Head of School