Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares ways to bridge the differences of opinion and handle conversations about vaccination.
What if you are a person who has mostly conservative viewpoints and is opposed to vaccination while your partner has liberal viewpoints and promotes vaccination, and these different views are clashing and causing conflict? Everywhere I go lately, this debate comes up and there are strong feelings on both sides. Any advice on this, especially when it hits close to home?
Many people are experiencing conflict in their homes and workplaces due to differing opinions about COVID-19 vaccines. One friend has refused to communicate with her mother or see her at all due to her mom's refusal to get vaccinated. Another has had employees walk away from their jobs to avoid vaccine mandates, and this debate is only heating up.
In this article, I'd like to give you a couple of things to think about regardless of which side you're on.
Labels like 'crazy anti-vaxxers' or 'sheep' are not helpful
While there are people who refuse vaccines, experts say many of the unvaccinated are just vaccine-hesitant and may still change their minds. Get away from labeling people and understand that medical decisions are scary and many people are just trying to make up their minds. The truth is, many of the people getting the vaccine are doing it with hesitation, too. They are also nervous about their decision. It happens on both sides.
It will not help your relationships or the world if you see other groups of people as bad, wrong, less than or evil. We are all human beings with the same value, the same fears and the same love. We are just expressing it all differently. We are all trying to make the best choices we can with what we know and understand.
It's best to stay the course of compassion, allowing tolerance and acceptance toward all people who are different from you.
We have more in common than you think
The reason many people have chosen to get the vaccine is that they are afraid of getting sick and having long-term problems or even dying from the virus. The funny thing is that most people who are choosing not to get the vaccine have the exact same reasons. Many are also afraid of long-term medical problems and they believe they are protecting themselves and others by taking a stand against the vaccine.
We are all fear-motivated and trying to make the choice we feel is safest. We just disagree about what that course is. When you tune into this truth, you can have more compassion for the other side.
Confusion makes people freeze
There is so much information coming at us from both sides it is not surprising many people are stuck. A very common reaction to confusion is to not make a choice at all. Many people are just refusing to make a decision until they can figure out what they believe and what would be best for them. We should see these people as the undecided.
Conspiracy theories make some people feel safe in the world
I heard an interesting interview recently featuring Karen Douglas, a professor of social psychology who appears on the "Speaking on Psychology" podcast. Douglas said there are three reasons some people are drawn to conspiracy theories.
- The epistemic reason. These people have a great need for knowledge, understanding, and information in order to feel safe in the world. They spend a lot of time online looking for information and they often end up "over researching" and ending up on obscure websites or getting strange information.
- The existential reason. These people are looking for some kind of control in order to feel safe in the world. They are are often building bomb shelters and stockpiling food and toilet paper to make themselves feel prepared.
- The social reason. These people often have low self-esteem on their own, but belonging to a group of people they believe are more educated and knowledgeable than them gives them group confidence. They often chose groups or clubs with strong opinions they can lean on because they don't trust their own. These people love spending time online talking with others about their theories and ideas.
The people who trend toward these behaviors are feeling scared or insecure and are seeking a sense of safety — just like you and me. They just find their sense of safety or importance in their theories. You can choose to have compassion toward them and allow them to be where and who they are.
Arguing doesn't change anyone's mind
Fighting, debating or arguing only makes people dig into their current position even deeper. They tend to get defensive and become less open to change. You will never win — or help anyone — by fighting with them.
Don't push, just listen
The best thing you can do if a friend or family member brings up the subject is more listening than talking. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
- Tell them you would love to understand their views on the subject but that you don't want to argue.
- Ask if they would be willing to share their opinion if you don't share yours. Then actually care enough about them to listen. Validate their right to have fears and concerns.
- Ask them if they would share some of their sources and what information made them think the way they think. Sometimes this can encourage people to look for more information on their own and if they challenge their own views, which is where real understanding and potential change come from.
Honor all human beings
Never make anyone feel dumb, misinformed or ignorant. Never act like you are better or smarter; always honor and respect them. They have the same value and the same right to their own journey that you have. The world needs us to honor and respect each other. Hate is responsible for all the war, racism, discrimination, crime and conflict on the planet. The world does not need us to use vaccination as another way to vilify another group of our fellow human beings. It needs us to come together.
Understand both sides value freedom
In the United States, freedom is a principle we all value. The downside to freedom is it always allows people to disagree with you, but this is a consequence that is worth the cost. Freedom is worth protecting even if it means protecting the people with whom you disagree. If you can't honor their views, then focus on honoring their freedom — it also guarantees yours.
No information source is truly unbiased
Unfortunately, this is the reality of our world. All the news outlets, social media and everyone spreading information around the world operate with some sort of bias. COVID-19 has actually become more about political lines than about health, and it is being used to divide us. People on both sides of the issue are being influenced, not just "the other guys." Keep this in mind and remember that we are all in the same boat, just paddling on the opposite side, and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.
The bottom line is: We are all in this together, scared about the future and worried about what will happen next. Let's try to remember we stand as one in these thoughts and feelings.
We can do this.