Long Beach is open.

Our children graduated in person. Our restaurants and stores are fully open. Our unmasked faces in open spaces are showing other people our smiles. We’re free again just in time for summer.

Except this summer might be hotter than we expected. Obviously, there’s the early heat wave that has us all nervous about fire season, but also there’s the emotional heat that represents rising tensions in the community.

Workplace incivility is increasing. Some employees, thrilled to be around new people, are oversharing intimate details of their lives. Other employees are wielding microaggressions and hurling insults at each other. The theory is individuals who have only been interacting with a small pod of folks who are just like them are out of practice and patience interacting with people who are different. Employees used to working from home with their families are also finding it difficult to be civil with coworkers for the entire work day.

Managers are stressed, understaffed, and also out of practice in conflict resolution. When conflict is not addressed swiftly, it festers, escalates and poisons the entire work environment. Part of the reason hiring is so difficult is because workers are no longer willing to accept the low pay and layered levels of disrespect and exploitation from their employers.

Outside of the workplace, there are people who had social anxieties before the lockdown and people who now have social anxieties because of the lockdown who are out of practice interacting with everyone. When community members become impatient with these people tensions surge.

Local crime is trending upward and shootings have skyrocketed across the city, becoming almost daily news in Long Beach. People are driving recklessly. Pedestrians are being killed in hit and runs. An Orange County couple has been charged in the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy when they shot at his mother’s vehicle. Her offense: giving them the finger after they cut her off on the 91 Freeway.

Everyday arguments are escalating into violent, deadly encounters. COVID-19 brought so much death. We should all be happy to be alive, but instead, too many of us are losing our lives to interpersonal violence.

What’s happening? Did experiencing COVID-19 unearth something terrible in us or is this who we’ve always been?

We also cannot underestimate the culture of incivility that reigned during the Trump Administration. From dismissive comments from the president during press conferences to the violence of January’s Capitol insurrection, the previous political climate emboldened hatred.

Perhaps the anonymity of 15 months of virtual interactions protected us from each other. Perhaps the anonymity of 15 months of virtual interactions promoted incivility. We could rage behind the machine and no one knew where to find us. We clicked out of encounters that made us uncomfortable. We forgot how to diplomatically resolve conflict. We got good at Zoom and disremembered how to interact in person.

Literally, the masks are gone now. We’re forced to face ourselves. Are we who we’ve always been? Are we worse? We think the most important question is Who do we want to be moving forward?