WHILE WE wait to hear whether the state will move to the next phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan later this month, we are being serenaded on all sides by a chorus of increasingly erratic voices.

First, we have a few things to make clear. No one -- repeat, NO ONE -- actually enjoys that schools, businesses, concert venues, sports arenas, theaters and more have been forced to close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one gets satisfaction from people's livelihoods being torn apart. No one is happy to see their family, friends and neighbors struggle.

No one.

Even so, it seems more and more people are losing sight of that fact. A growing number of protesters and defenders of Pritzker's stay-at-home order have taken their vitriol to hyperbolic extremes on social media, apparently casting aside any notion that we all are in this together. Supporters claim those opposing the governor's orders just want others to die to keep themselves from being inconvenienced. Protesters claim those defending the order are trying to usher in Soviet-style communism. Neither group has shown any reluctance to make their attacks personal, stooping to name-calling and worse.

Otherwise-respected members of this community have turned into children, hurling taunts at each other instead of listening to what their friends and neighbors have to say and working together to find a path forward.

We are now less than two weeks from the possibility of moving to the next phase of the state's plan on May 28. This is crucial time that could be spent making sure distancing recommendations will be followed, putting in place plans to reduce occupancy and keep safe once doors are opened.

Instead of joining forces to make sure as many people and businesses are safe, however, the temptation of taunting one another on social media is leading too many astray.

The options before us right now are basically three-fold. We can follow the plan and get ready to move forward later this month. We can try to take legal action against the state. Or we can act in open defiance of the order.

The first option offers the safest results for the most people, and ultimately it offers the safest results for businesses.

The second option, legal action, offers little recourse. Yes, we can file lawsuits, and yes, a judge might issue a stay. But the suits will not be heard completely, nor will they be finally adjudicated for months, wasting time, effort and money for all involved.

The third option, going it alone, has the potential to inflict substantial long-term damage to people and businesses. Yes, we can declare we will not follow the order and open our doors without limitations. While putting employees and customers at risk, it also endangers businesses, who face the loss of professional and other licenses, not to mention the cancellation of insurance policies for acting outside the good graces of the state.

There is admittedly no win-win scenario here. The only truly positive path forward is the one that does the least amount of harm to the most people. While we still hope that in concordance with moving the state to the next phase Pritzker breaks the state into smaller zones and allows more local decision-making, even if he doesn't, we still believe a judicious, phased approach to reopening is best.

We all must also realize that a post-COVID society likely will look far different than anything we are used to. Instead of fearing that, however, we can unleash our imaginations and look for new and creative ways to conduct our culture. We might not ever be able to go back to the way things were, but we have to ask ourselves, do we have to?

If you've ever wanted a chance to help build a better world, one of the greatest opportunities of our lifetimes is now before us. Before you post another meme or wade into another comment war, think about whether you're offering a positive contribution or simply stirring the pot.

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