In the northern hemisphere we are caught in the throes of winter and most places I go, I see hand sanitizer dispensers to help all of us stay healthier. Ads abound about risks of flu, washing our hands, not coughing around others, and more.
Disease is contagious and can be easily spread from one to another. We see that in epidemics and rare but dreaded pandemics. As a result, the question about contagiousness suggests a caution about taking a risk of being around anyone who is labeled as such.
As a result the word contagious shows up in a pretty negative light oftentimes, but is it really always a “bad actor?”
Can it ever be positive or a gift?
The dictionary speaks of something (usually disease) that is “spread from one person to another by direct or indirect contact.”
I confess that I initially ascribe the worst sort of view to the word, but I am rethinking my evaluation because there are other things that can be decidedly positive that are also contagious.
It’s been said that we tend to become like the people with whom we spend our time. In most cases it isn’t that they are directly teaching us something (even though sometimes they might be). Most of the time it is because we “catch” whatever it is that emanates from them – good or bad.
If we are around people who tend to be highly critical and judgmental, then despite our best efforts we will often develop more of those characteristics as well. If we are around people who are joyful and positive much of the time, we will find it more difficult to see our glass as half empty.
I have often shared that I am less concerned about what I taught my children or students or clients and more concerned about what they may have “caught” from me that I surely did not intend.
A cursory study of history will show what happens when in the midst of a fierce battle someone steps forward with courage and against all odds. Soon others join in…the courage is “caught.” It happens in every war and battle.
In the movie “Glory” whose theme is centered in the U.S. Civil War, the final scenes involve the Massachusetts 54th being asked to assault a position of the Confederate Army that is impossible and sure to result in great bloodshed. The Union unit is made up of African-American soldiers led by Caucasian officers. The task is one that would cause the bravest to shudder and give in to fear.
Colonel Shaw is the commander of the unit and he knows that everything is stacked against them. As an officer he could choose not to lead the charge and bring up the rear, but instead he steps to the front and leads the men up the hill. It would appear to me that his courage was contagious.
It’s an example of how contagion can be a gift. We can “catch” something, some good quality from someone else, that spurs us forward and buoys up our own reluctance and fear.
If we consider the spread of the Gospel by a rag-tag group of disciples who were largely uneducated, ravaged by grief from the death of their leader, full of weaknesses of various kinds, and not known to be consistently brave, we see as the Holy Spirit filled them they gained courage. They stood “with” one another in the face of persecution and their courage was contagious and spread far and wide.
Ponder how many lives were changed by the courage of 12 men whose love and passions were contagious.
What happens in our relationships?
If we play it safe and keep things on the surface, there is little growth in deepening the relationship. We can make that choice and some of our relationships will be much like that, but if we long for friendships that are deeper, richer, and spur our thoughts, behaviors, attitudes…our character…to higher levels, then we will need to challenge ourselves to risk being more courageous.
Experience teaches us where and with whom we can move in greater openness and vulnerability and be used to spread the fruit of the Lord’s light and love within us. That kind of contagion is a gift indeed. It is absolutely necessary if we are to be channels of his love.
“Vulnerability and courage are contagious and can be caught by those we love if we can first boldly blaze the trail.”Andrew J. Bauman
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket − safe, dark, motionless, airless − it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves