Stories. They’re so important, aren’t they?
Here are four I’ve heard in the past couple weeks. They are all about COVID and specifically the vaccine, but they could be about anything.
1. Sarah* has a child who suffers from asthma. Avoiding a virus that seems to attack the lungs, she chose to wear masks and get the vaccine as soon as it was available. After spending a year keeping her family as protected as possible, the vaccine was a welcome relief.
2. Elsie** lost her sister to cancer, due to a drug her mother took when pregnant with her (DES by Lilly Pharm, which she took after multiple miscarriages, hoping she could carry a healthy baby to term). So the thought of a vaccine still in its trial stages sounded dangerous at best: hadn’t the “experts” convinced her mother that DES was perfectly safe too?
3. Jeanne** grew up in the age of Polio and became a nurse. She saw vaccines as the most straight-forward way to rid the world of dangerous diseases. Her blood boiled at the thought of people choosing not to vaccinate, because they were putting themselves and everyone else at risk “because someone told them the vaccines might be dangerous.”
4. Laura** has an autoimmune disease. Knowing something “triggered” her body into fighting itself, but not knowing yet what that trigger was, she’s resistant to taking a vaccine whose sole point is to attack specific cells in the body: what if it decided another part of HER body was the thing it was created to attack? It had happened once already…
*name changed because she thought it would be cool to have a code name
**changed their names too, because it’s fun!
These stories are all real.
They all help explain why each decides what they do about whether or not to get the COVID vaccine.
And, if they don’t know another person’s story, why they would think that it was crazy to have any other conclusion than the one they themselves came to.
What if we’re all right?
What if everyone you see is doing the best they can with the information they have, but more importantly, with the backstory they carry with them?
How would that change things?
And it’s not just about the vaccine, or about COVID.
It’s also about:
-why people choose to go into debt to go to a private college…
-what makes people choose the faith they align with…
-how we approach our diet
-who we vote for (and at least as important: who we vote against!)
-and just about everything I can think of.
What does it all mean?
It means we recognize things as true because they align with our experiences. When we hear something that resonates, we are a million times more likely to add it to our arsenal. When we come across something that doesn’t match our previous experiences, we throw it out as wrong/stupid/a conspiracy theory/ignorant.
The term for this is confirmation bias, and a quick Google search shows article after article about how dangerous it is to live only listening to sources that agree with how we already think.
When we are bombarded with people saying something that doesn’t match our experiences, it’s overwhelming. It makes us angry or anxious, and it doesn’t take long scrolling through social media to see that this ends with people sharing memes confirming their beliefs and often bashing the alternatives.
I feel like we need to take a step back and recognize that we all see the world differently. Because of our different histories, our tendency is to continue to focus on the things that fit in with our views.
Pushing past our comfort zone, spending time listening respectfully to those who have a different experience and conclusion, is a difficult but powerful way to start feeling more connected. We need to feel like a community again, not fragments who barely tolerate each other.
It’s hard. Being face-to-face with someone who feels passionately the opposite way I do is super tough. But I have made meaningful connections when I have done this, and that’s a million times better than the momentary feeling of victory when I stood my ground and spoke against what the other person was saying.