Just when you think it’s safe to venture out in public, someone says something so unimaginable, it sends you scurrying back to the safety of your home. In this case, a comment by a local businessperson reminded me that we may not all be in this together. Newly vaccinated, we decided to return to a local restaurant. As we waited for a table, we happened to overhear the owner say something like, “I don’t believe in the vaccine, I only got it because I fear that those who don’t will have to wear a symbol like in that book The Scarlet Letter.” There is just so much wrong in that statement it’s hard to know where to start. But we started with not staying.
Trying to find reason in the wide range of responses to the vaccine rollout and the possibility of COVID vaccine passports forces me to grapple with many conflicting claims and considerations that irritate me: I can only respond with impatience. My work as a therapist depends on my ability to join with people who have irrational fears in ways often unknown to them. They may often act in ways that are driven by these fears, even when the individuals themselves are deeply troubled by their own actions. So, when I am personally confronted by such idiocy, it is irritating. It feels too much like work!
On the other hand, my practice is rooted in a belief that I am only good a therapist if I can actually walk-the-walk and not just talk-the-talk; I am not just professionally compelled to remain non-judgmental in this situation; ultimately, I must practice what I preach. So, I must recognize the places where my beliefs and my practices do not conform to the standards I set for myself. I can allow myself to at least privately respond with disdain and intolerance, but hopefully sooner rather than later, return to the responsibility to remain accepting and compassionate about that which irritates me personally.
I have to take time to understand how the possibility of an additional layer of safety in the middle of a pandemic causes such a varied assortment of attitudes and responses. I know that what motivates our responses is, at heart, the need to protect ourselves and to assure the safety of those we love. This prime directive is usually experienced as a set of reasons and principles that we accept as we maintain our own sense that we are reasonable members of society. Our personal social/familial connections gravitate out of necessity towards like-minded individuals. This is driven by the need to belong to a clan/pack; as mammals we understand this is necessary for survival. What I have to keep in mind is that those who are against a vaccine passport feel the same way as I do. They are protecting themselves and their clans against danger–real or imagined.
These groups of clans/packs subscribe to the alleged COVID hoax and consist of members who are believers that a COVID passport is equivalent to the NAZI practice of forcing Jews to wear the star of David. It is useless to offer rational arguments to those who hold such opinions. The need to hold such paranoid beliefs are not rooted in reason even if at times they are presented under the guise of rational argument.
I am sure I have not reached a thorough understanding of everyone’s perception–or misperception–of the ways in which our current administration is trying to protect us. For now I am going to go with some initial premises that may allow for an eventual inclusive comprehension of all the disparate responses and attitudes that are elicited by the Covid vaccine and passports issues. I understand that some feel compelled to adhere to family and social group beliefs out of a habit that make it easier to make decisions without having to do all the work. Sorting through potential rational fallacies each time we have to make a decision would make it quite impossible to live daily life. This allows me to explore an individual’s internal conflict in a non-threatening way and hopefully make healthy changes possible.
Usually we discover that our rejection of what is actually healthier is being prevented by threats to our attachments to unhealthy connections that were established in our neural networks. Much of the foundation for these attachments occurs before our rational brain is fully developed. What we accept as rational then, is really a believable narrative that allows us to keep the familial and societal attachments that make us feel safe and not necessarily healthy adaptations to reality as an expedient and comfortable arrangement for our sense of self. The successful accomplishment of exploring the conflict between familiar but dysfunctional choices and the counterintuitive but healthier options can only take place in a setting of safety.
We have choices; all of us do. My own level of security allows me to make choices about my personal safety without being triggered by what I see in public that violates my beliefs and allows me to maintain my own physical, emotional and spiritual well being. This is not approval of unsafe behaviors, but a necessary acceptance of the reality lived by those who make choices they perceive as safe and necessary for their comfort. Keeping my personal irritation at such behaviors from impacting on the possibility of productive dialog is a necessary component if we are ever going to heal the divisions that cause so much of the disconnection of our current social and political life.