Healing the Vax Divide

The question of “To vax or not to vax” still weighs heavily on many minds and hearts these days. Not because we’re still deciding – most of us found our answer long ago – but because different responses continue to be a source of great pain. There is no other topic I know of that has divided so many people so suddenly, deeply, and painfully in the year and a half that vaccines have been available.

These words are addressed not to the anger, but to the heartbreak. What can you do to restore a damaged relationship?

Probably all of us know families who have been divided by this question. I know of friendships that have been destroyed, marriages too. I know of families who have gone from harmony to enmity and bitterness for no reason other than that one side is pro-vaccine and the other is against.

The first step: you need to fully accept that this issue cannot be solved rationally. You cannot, absolutely can not, convince anyone with logical arguments that their view should change and align with yours. There is scientifically valid evidence on both sides of the question of vaccination, and either can use this evidence to support its own viewpoint and diminish the other. (In my opinion it is unfortunate that the evidence against vaccination has been actively suppressed, for two reasons: we make better decisions if we have access to more information, and suppression feeds the mistrust that supports conspiracy theories. And I understand why: from the beginning, the emotional overlay on the vaccine question has swamped a reasoned approach.)

I’ve been following a number of well-qualified psychologists who work with families divided by this and similar issues (cults being a good example). Their advice (from those who are neutral, who aren’t promoting one side or the other) is consistent: on an issue like this one, it is pointless to try to convince anyone that their viewpoint is wrong. Anything you say that might smell even vaguely like an argument that supports your viewpoint or negates theirs will only stop the communication and harden their position. This is particularly so if the other side has been caught up in conspiracy theory (on either side). It’s impossible to drag anyone out of that rabbit hole with the flimsy string of rational argument.

If you step back for a moment, you might recognize yourself on the other side of this coin. Have you also stopped listening to points of view or considering evidence that don’t agree with what you have decided to believe? If so, I encourage you to contemplate this simple truth: you can be right, or you can have affinity. You can’t do both at the same time.

Difficult though it may be, you have to behave with them as though the issue does not exist. Here’s more from the psychologists: let the ones you love know through birthday cards, small notes, and other means that will not provoke them, that you do love them. Be careful with your words; anything that looks or feels to them like pressure is likely to get a negative reaction.

All you can do is remain available and wait until they are ready to reach out to you. And send them love in whatever way you know: loving thoughts, prayer, blessings, and the physical ways mentioned above.

Here’s a well-balanced and still current article from the Los Angeles Times in May 2021 about the experience of two sisters on opposite sides of the controversy. It’s a good example of what they did to prioritize their relationship ahead of being right.

I also offer you my blog post “The Black Dot,” about a way to step back from an emotionally charged issue to find a healthier and less emotionally charged perspective.

Finally, I invite you to hold the energy of faith/belief that this too shall pass, and that you will achieve a new depth of honesty and beauty in your relationships with the people you value enough to care about so deeply.

Published August 24 2022

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