Monday, February 2, 2015

Discuss! Kindly...

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Mocha
Taos Mountain toasted coconut energy bar

I am trying not to blog at all so that I can focus on finishing up the book.  Hopefully, I will have actual book in hand when I journey south again with the boys in March.  But something has been on my mind, and I may well piss some people off, but I feel I have to put my two cents out there.

Let me tell you about today... 

One of my favorite coffee shops was vandalized over the weekend, so I am working from here in solidarity.  Before coming here, we took the boys to get caught up on their last vaccination (chickenpox - which the school system is battling in our area).  Before sending Henry to his class, I had to make sure to wipe the peanut butter off his face because the school has asked that parents not only avoid bringing nuts to school, but also scrupulously clean the hands and faces of their children so that there are no traces of any nuts on them when they arrived to play with their classmates.  Today also happens to be the 20th anniversary of me ending my virginity.

What does all that have in common?  Let me start in reverse order.

When I realized that this was the 20th anniversary of me deflowering a Jehovah's Witness, I started tweeting some reflections with the hashtag "20yrsofnookie".  One of those central reflections was that even smart people will do very stupid things under the influence of sexual arousal.  I could add to that people will do very stupid things when the consequences are distant and abstract.

Stupid things like not wearing a condom and risking premature parenting and worse.  Things like smashing the window of a small business to get to a trivial amount of money left in the cash register.  Things like not taking care of the environment, or not supporting measures to slow the human impact on the climate.  Things like not supporting a living wage and cutting social programs (as I have bitched about extensively already).  Things like not vaccinating yourself or your kids.

And that is why, I would like to ask all my pro-vaccination friends to stop being so hostile for a bit.  I'm not asking you to not feel angry.  I'm not asking you to shut up.  But even I, who obviously support vaccination, cannot stomach the barrage of snark and contempt that is clogging up my social media right now.  If your goal is to get people to change their mind and get their kids vaccinated, then you are (mostly) going about it the wrong way.

I admit that I have been flippant about some things, and a little hostile, even.  But most of the time, I hope I do not come across like that.  I try to reign it in enough to show that I am open to hearing the other side.  When you throw around contempt and condescension, all you do is get people's backs up and shut down their willingness to listen.  You drive them further into their corners instead of bringing them to your side.

We have a cultural problem where all topics seem to get driven into this binary positioning of either for or against.  And people are encouraged to take it personal, whatever their position is.  Many years ago, I was in a relationship with a former debate team champion.  Meanwhile, I was the math/science major.  When we argued (which was a lot) these two backgrounds became really apparent.  The object of my arguing was to employ logic and listening reach a mutual understanding.  His objective was to win the argument by whatever means worked, including logic, yes, but also tactics like interrupting or flustering your "opponent" by provoking emotional responses.

I confess, after we had been in an escalating argument where I had been successfully keeping a cool stream of point-by-point logic in the face his erratic, inflammatory statements, I did end up chucking a water bottle at him after he called me irrational.  Not my best moment.

My point is just that "debates" try to win the audience, while "discussions" try to win the people taking part in them.  It's hard when you have a righteous anger, but it's important to try to extend your compassion to the person making you angry.  Try.  Try to remember that the person across from you made their decision for any number of reasons, including their love for the people most precious to them.  Challenge them, yes.  Ask them to go back to the reasons that brought them there, to listen to the responses to their concerns, to consider things from other perspectives.  Remember that they have a mind and it can be changed.  Offer to embrace them as an equal instead of battling them into submission, and you are more likely to see them move out of their corners and listen.

I understand that some people think that giving people the chance to opt out of vaccinations is coddling paranoia, and is now too dangerous to be allowed.  I understand that view.  I understand that their choice presents enough of a risk that unvaccinated kids may have to be kept out of the regular school system.  Someone else posted something like, 'If my kid can't bring peanut butter to school, your kid can't bring preventable diseases.'  I still don't believe that the choice should be taken away from them.

Just imagine that it's not some anti-conformist, hippy parent you're arguing with.  Imagine it's an anti-government, open-carry, Bundy-Rancher type parent who doesn't want to get their kid vaccinated.  How do think a mandatory vaccination edict would go over with them?

I've written before that scientists are not infallible, and there have been terrible mistakes in public health over the years, from Thalidomide to lead paint to lobotomies and hysterectomies as mental health treatments to the whole process of hospital childbirth in the first half of the last century (look it up - oh my god).  And there have been some terrible things done by governments, including this government, like forced sterilizations of black Americans, also in the first half of the last century.  So, it is not wholly irrational that people could find reason to not do something that would benefit their child, especially, as I said before, when the consequences are distant and abstract.

However, the consequences are becoming tangible now... tangible and tragic.  But this is a winnable argument.  Maybe it's going to take PSAs and even health classes in the schools and seminars for the parents.  But the preponderance of the evidence shows clearly that it is much safer - for everyone - to vaccinate.  I have also said before that there is a middle ground to this discussion, but "middle" was a wrong choice of word.  There is room for discussion, more that we could know about the production process and such that could make people more comfortable with the choice.  But until then, as parents we gotta go with what we got.

The boys have arrived to pick me up.  Time to go!  No time for edits.


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