What’s Manipulating You?
Let’s break it down. I’ll go first. Here’s my list of how (un)successful I am at preventing a hate-based reaction to the unmasking/unvaccinated assisting the spread of COVID-19. I arranged it in descending order, from most successful to least:
- those increasing the chance a new variant will elude my vaccine
- those increasing the chance a new variant will elude my husband’s vaccine
- those who are stressing our healthcare system to the breaking point
- those who are stressing to the breaking point the hospital where my beloved cousin works
- those letting unvaccinated people work in healthcare settings
- those letting unvaccinated people work in healthcare settings with immunocompromised patients
- those letting unvaccinated people work in healthcare settings with immunocompromised patients I love
- those who argue against masks in schools, exposing to illness children who cannot get vaccinated
- those who do the same to my grandchildren
You see how this works? The closer the threat creeps to my world, the quicker I am to knee-jerk wish terrible consequences on the people I blame for creating that danger. I’m talking about fear today because, as the Delta variant spreads and mandates invariably come into play, pressure is going to squeeze out more fear on both sides. We need to talk about it before it gets out of hand.
The Emotional Analysis
In my fear, I can see where I’m more sensitive to what has already hurt me. I have a quicker reaction to those imperiling the healthcare system than I do to variants because an overwhelmed system has already imperiled my husband. I’m even more angry at those in a position of trust—hospital administrators—who breach that trust by letting sick people come into contact with those who might actually infect them. This is a “breach of trust by authority figure” anger that I can absolutely pinpoint in my past.
My anger level—the secondary emotion to fear—is also tied to the vulnerability of those at risk. High for patients, but higher for immunocompromised patients. (I can bitch about the receptionist at the Ob-Gyn not wearing a mask, but what about my friends with cancer? How can a clinic in good conscience allow the unprotected around them?).
Vulnerability also explains why I rise quickest to anger with children. Children have no say-so in their situation and must follow single file into harm’s way.
You’ll also notice that I can handle danger to myself easier than I can handle a threat to those I love. When that happens, at this most-visceral level, the flash of red-hot anger feels “self-righteous.” But maybe it’s only the “self” part.
So, what happens if I remove the self part? If I try to set aside my emotional fear of something terrible happening to me or those l love? How do I then feel about people who sincerely believe their healthy lifestyle will protect them? Or vaccines contain microchips? Or God doesn’t want them to wear a mask? Or COVID is no different from the flu?
The Heartbreaking Story
When I do that, I can’t help but think of a man at the Door of Hope explaining to me how he became homeless. His family kicked him out because he had AIDS. The diagnosis made public what had been private: their son and brother was gay. Therefore, the family’s anti-gay pastor told them, they had to disown their loved one. Sever him from their lives. The DOH guest trickled his fingers down his cheek as he told me about his brother sobbing, telling him to go.
I was sorrowful for the Door of Hope guest, for the trauma done to him. I also felt for the family who loved him and took gut-wrenching action counter to that love because a person they trusted told them to. What, I wondered, if the pastor’s agenda was wrong? How would the family feel for betraying their love for nothing? How could the pastor ever make it up to them?
Similarly, when I look behind those who are fighting against masks and vaccines, I see politicians pulling strings to further their own agenda. They want to be governor of Louisiana (Jeff Landry) or president of the United States (Rick DeSantis.) I see entertainment figures (Tucker Carlson) who are fully vaccinated but ramping up their anger to score viewers, listeners, followers. In the shadows lurk social media companies (yes, Mark Zuckerberg) that allow users to share and share realistic-looking “news” articles as long as they sell ads.
I also wonder about the life experiences of anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers. Do they, like me, have shadowy traumas and protective mechanisms that rule without them knowing it? Maybe a person in authority betrayed them, so the government is the last thing they trust. Or they received a misdiagnosis, so they don’t trust medical advice. Perhaps their belief in a healthy lifestyle keeps a fear of death at bay. So they go elsewhere for their information. Such as Facebook, which makes money off their searching. Or pastors, who promise God will protect them, while soliciting donations. Or hawkers who sell products that will kill the virus, but only on their website. Or they simply whistle past the graveyard.
What Can We Do?
We can examine our reactions to this virus. Has our opinion on COVID changed since 2020? The facts sure have changed—this Delta variant is NOT the same as last year’s virus. It’s taking down healthy young people and children. If we haven’t considered new information, why not? Am I, fully vaccinated, reacting to this new wave with the same fear I did last year? Are you, unprotected, reacting with the same denial? Or worse, is our fear level rising to the point we’re succumbing to embarrassing, irrational thinking?
If so, we’ve got to get past it.
If I refuse to do this, I will ignore medical studies finding vaccines are good against variants (and particularly good against severe illness). I can’t hear when experts say, if we need boosters, my husband’s age will be put him among the early receivers. I ignore hospitals saying they’ll require vaccines when they get permanent approval and, the meantime, masks and regular testing will be in place. I won’t admit that parents who don’t want the government telling their children to wear masks logically could still send their kids to school fully masked. I might even wish harm on strangers because I believe they’re about to harm me and mine, which is how group violence starts.
If anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers refuse to do this, they might die.
We may not believe it, but we’re all in this together. Perhaps it’s time for us—that’s you and me—to ask what’s keeping us from loving both our neighbors and ourselves.