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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Meyer's Law

Tommy Tomlinson

School is closed for the rest of the school year in North Carolina, and the long phase-out of the stay-at-home orders are going to take us into June or beyond.

That’s bound to make us more cranky, more restless, and more prone to look for someone to blame –  maybe Gov. Roy Cooper in particular.

But as I sat down to read the other night, looking to escape reality for a few hours, I ran across something that helped me make sense of these times. It’s called Meyer’s Law.

This comes from the Travis McGee books – a series written by John D. MacDonald in the '60s, '70s and '80s. They’re my favorite thrillers of all time. Travis McGee is the hero, a crusty but noble white knight who lives on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale. His sidekick is an economist named Meyer.

In one of the books, called “Pale Gray for Guilt,” Meyer spells out Meyer’s Law: "In all emotional conflicts, the thing you find hardest to do is the thing you should do."

We all know that’s true, even though we hate that it’s true. It can be so hard to make peace with someone you’ve had conflict with, or to reach out to someone who might demand more of you than you’ve been willing to give. It’s hard to step forward when it can be so easy to turn away.

The virus has forced our leaders into a place of no good decisions. Keep things shut down, and more people will surely lose their livelihoods. Open things back up, and more people are bound to die from a virus we don’t yet know how to beat.

Our society is built on balancing liberty and responsibility, the need of the one against the needs of the many. It’s never an easy call. But the virus has driven us down to our core principles. What matters in a crisis? What do we really care about?

For now, as we stumble forward, it’s worth considering Meyer’s Law. The hard thing to do is usually the right thing to do, even if it means affecting people’s livelihoods. Let us lead ourselves from the temptation of thinking that any part of this was going to be easy. 

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.