We're destroying our world one stand at a time. Whether we’re talking about masks, vaccines, politics, or pineapple on pizza - the way we talk matters. When we refuse to listen to someone else’s point of view, we create a situation where we don’t feel heard, the other side doesn’t feel heard, and both sides leave feeling frustrated.
Today, I’m looking at this from the perspective of the COVID vaccine debate. I’ll talk about how we’re creating further division, how to build bridges, and how to be okay even when you disagree.
I'm including the hashtags #notallvaxxers and #notallantivaxxers because I think they may be needed.
Division is created when people respond based on their own misconceptions about what someone else thinks or believes and why they think or believe what they do.
Dialogue by health agencies, governments, and all the people on social media was exactly the opposite of what was required to shift whether someone decided to get the vaccine or not. These dialogues created a climate of distrust, division, and fear instead of connection & trust. I can forgive social media because you'll never find a more wretched hive of scum & villainy outside Mos Eisley, but I have a hard time forgiving governments and health systems that should really know better by this point in time.
The current dialogue is dismissive at best, and hurtful at worst. Some posts, many posts, that circulate are angry and aggressive toward anyone who questioned the vaccine or masks. On the opposite side posts circulate calling anyone who got the vaccine sheeple, or similar. There's anger about having their personal autonomy taken away, and there's a lot of anger directed toward those they see as opening the door to too much government oversight and control.
If you believe aggression toward those with a different stance is acceptable, then I'd like to invite you to consider how you feel when the other side becomes aggressive toward you for making the choice you made. How did it feel? Did it make you want to change your mind?
Humans are naturally inclined to 'other' people. When our common dialogue is divisive, Othering becomes even more apparent. We identify with THIS group, therefore THAT group is 'other' and 'bad'. Friends lists became even more monochrome. Echo chambers became louder. And when you do see a different point of view, you're more likely to interpret it as extreme.
This is how we slowly erode connection and find ourselves afraid to talk about the things that really matter.
No matter how right you think you are, I promise you're not right enough.Tweet
It's okay to feel what you're feeling. It's okay to feel angry or scared or any other emotion. It is not okay to attack those who disagree with you. No matter how right you think you are, I promise you're not right enough. It's possible to talk about our differing opinions without attacking the person themselves.
Science is wibbly wobbly. Through science we see our errors, correct, & move forward. See more errors, correct, & move forward again. This means those first people getting the vaccine are, by it's very nature, more at risk of adverse events. It doesn't matter if the science has been there, building and growing, for a decade. This specific vaccine for this specific coronavirus is new. The first round of testers got a much larger dose than subsequent testers because the information gained allowed them to change the way it was administered.
Yes, some people may not understand that new information allowed administration practices to change, but most people do understand the way science works. For this reason many people are concerned about getting a vaccine that is still in the testing process. We know the information will change. Because we know that's how science works. So your dismissal of our concerns as 'not understanding science' is easy for us to dismiss because we do understand science.
Those questioning the vaccine see the other side as the ones that doesn't understand that the vaccine is going to change and improve. They want to wait for the improved version.
As much as I disagree with the stance of those who are angry about masks, as much as I wish everyone accepted the vaccine in order for us to get back to normal, I can't say I don't understand where they're coming from. They want the best for their family. From their point of view, they're giving the best with what's available. And so are those who vaccinated themselves and their children.
Okay, Sarah, I get it. You've shared the point of view of anti-vaxxers, but what about vaxxers?
I'm glad you asked!
People who got the vaccine are not following blindly, they are not sheep, and despite what the person who refuses to mask thinks, we're not afraid - at least no more afraid than any other neurotic, anxious person was pre-covid. From the vaxxers perspective the other side seems a heck of a lot more afraid than we are.
We also don't see it as us giving up our personal freedoms or our liberty. It's a conversation that doesn't make sense because we don't see it that way. When anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers talk to us about giving up freedoms we just scratch our heads because to us this seems so insignificant of a perceived freedom - that already has so many precedents - that we dismiss what you're saying.
The anti-vaxxer dialogue is focused on your own thoughts and concerns, but has nothing to do with our thoughts or concerns. But when we say, "Well, actually..." The response is often aggressive, insulting, or no response at all.
Most of the people I know who got the vaccine and support wearing masks have looked at the information and where the information comes from, then decided to trust the people with the most education related to epidemiology, microbiology, pandemics, disease control, and how to prevent the spread of germs.
These people do regularly question the validity of information, so they aren't following blindly. They asked themselves motivational questions like:
These questions help clarify their stance and also help them decide what information to listen to. Through this type of questioning it's possible to connect a decision to your values and make your decision easier. It isn't about being afraid, it's about connecting to what's important to them individually.
What we know about human neuropsychology is that at all points in life people are able to function more effectively and cope more effectively when they have control over their own life.
There's ways we can support another person's autonomy without giving up our own. This can mean asking questions to help them see what they do have control over. It may be acknowledging where they don't have control. Most importantly it means guarding our language so we don't decrease their autonomy more.
I am a firm believer that we should focus on intent more than how a message is received. However, when disconnection has happened and we need to build bridges, then intent is less important than the way our brains receive the message.
Things like, "You need to do..." or "If you don't do this..." or labeling the over all covid situation as their fault all decrease personal autonomy. "I told you so" always leads to disconnection and also implies the other person shouldn't have autonomy.
It's easy to blame others. Building bridges requires that we accept that there are also other explanations for the way covid has progressed.
When the memes we share say that we don't believe someone else deserves to make their own choices, the message comes out as: we don't believe you're worthy of full humanity.
For most people, that's enough to make them dig in and refuse to budge.
Even if the other person doesn't seem open to your point of view, almost all people want to share their own point of view. Ask questions.
The point of these questions is not to change someone's mind, it's to understand their point of view and to open your own mind. As long as you dismiss their point of view as invalid, then there's no reason for them to listen to you.
One of the stories I see shared often is about the 1955 polio vaccine and how amazing it was and how it's saved so many people. And yes, that's true. Kind of. It also faced a very similar backlash as the covid vaccine - in fact every single vaccine ever has faced the same fear. I'd encourage everyone to read about Benjamin Franklin and his son dying from small pox. As much as each vaccine has helped us. We also see what happened to those who were injured by them. That highly praised 1955 vaccine has also been called the great polio mess. And yes, it's true - the risk of injury from the COVID vaccine is much smaller than the risk of worse injuries from COVID, but it doesn't mean it's an easy choice.
There are many valid reasons to question getting the covid vaccine. There are many valid reasons to get the covid vaccine. But as long as the stance we take is "I'm right, and you're wrong!" then we will continue to drift farther and farther apart.
In order to build bridges, we need to consider the ways we're wrong as well as the ways our evidence points to a different conclusion.
At this point so many bridges need to be built in order to prove both sides are trustworthy and willing to listen.
A few months ago I said something about needing to listen to the other point of view. Shortly after, my cousin sent me a link to a post that I viewed as fear mongering. My response was to say something along the lines of, "If this is true, I'd be really worried about it. But as far as I can tell the site is a spoof site and the doctor isn't an actual medical Dr. and isn't actually affiliated with the organization they claim to be."
He sent me a 'thumbs up' reaction.
At the time I thought I was being open, but since then I've done a lot more reading and learning about how to actually be open. And I expect I still have a long ways to go from where I'm at now. I certainly need more practice!
If a specific bridge hasn't been broken or burned, then using questions to understand the other person's stance better can be enough to strengthen your bridges and come out stronger than before.
However, any damage caused to a relationship bridge leads to broken trust. Before a new bridge can be built, trust needs to be regained. Trust as a topic requires a full post all on it's own. I'll try to keep this short while being clear.
A great place to start is finding out whether or not trust is broken (vs your perception of broken trust) - ask them.
Once people listen, not with the intent to change someone else's mind, but with the intent to open our own point of view, then we begin working toward a more connected community where everyone feels safe with the people around them.
In order to know whether you're okay or not, it's important to know what 'Okay' means to you.
Many people believe that in order to be okay, we need to feel good. Or at least not upset. That's unrealistic and impossible. With that goal, you'll likely never feel okay.
The definition of 'Okay' should allow a range of emotions - and needs to accept that the outcome may not be what you want. Even if things aren't going the way you want, how can you be okay?
Our world is scary right now for so many people. When we're stressed, it's harder to cope. When we don't know what's coming next, it's harder to cope. All people do better when they have autonomy over their own life. Right now so few people feel they have any autonomy.
Nurturing autonomy can be as simple as making a single decision that matters. But most of the time it's more complicated than that.
We often see the one thing we have no control over and fixate on it. Examining it repeatedly throughout the day, poke it, taste it, and spend way more energy than is healthy trying to guess what the outcome might be.
There is a lot we have control over in life. But often we see the one thing we wish we had control over, but don't, and we focus on that. Focus on what you can control, make a plan so that dealing with it is easier. This leads to more confidence in ourselves, even when the world is in turmoil.
Having a predetermined plan to make decisions, or having standard 'rules' for recurring decision decreases stress. When we don't prepare, and leave decisions until the moment arises, then we find ourselves becoming more and more overwhelmed. This leads to decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is a psychological theory about a person's ability or capacity to make decisions. The theory is that a human's ability to make decisions gets worse after making many decisions. As they get more tired, the ability to make good decision decreases even more. Being faced with decisions leads to an increased stress response, even if the specific decision is benign.
One way to improve your coping ability is to recognize decision fatigue is more likely right now. We have so many new decisions to make. These decisions feel so much bigger than the regular kind we normally need to make. That means we're more likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to lash out as a result.
Decreasing the decisions we need to make decreases the amount of stress we carry day in and day out. You may need to make so many big decisions right now, but it's okay to drop a bunch of smaller decisions. Make rules for yourself to follow - these rules are designed to decrease the need for in moment decisions.
For instance social media is a huge trigger for people. Social media also gives you roughly 20 decisions a minute for a casual user.
There are so many decisions, but if we make rules for common decisions, it decreases our mental load and allows us breathing room.
What decisions do you find yourself making day after day? How might you decrease the number of different decisions you need to make?
Other ways to be okay include focusing on what went well - what you did that made the situation better. Focus on people who support you, and focus on the people who have respectful conversations with you.
And ask yourself how you will know when you're okay? What might help you recover?
Know who your support system is, and how to access that support. When you find yourself struggling, reach out to the person most likely to offer the kind of support you need.
If you're unsure of who specifically is in your support system, or what kind of support they offer, then you may find value in my Connection Coaching Program.
Our world is hurting right now and relationships are fractured because we're so focused on our point of view being the 'correct' point of view that we've lost sight of the humanity of everyone else.
Trust has been broken, but it's possible to rebuild and regain trust. We can do this by recognizing where we made mistakes, apologizing, and trying again. This doesn't mean you have to change your mind. It doesn't mean you need to be unsafe. It's possible to acknowledge hurt you've caused without agreeing that you're wrong.
It's easier to connect with others and listen to different points of view when we're coping and taking care of our own needs. What might you be able to do to support yourself and your ability to cope?
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