The Urgency of Understanding

First, we misunderstand each other profoundly. Next, we stop caring when real harm befalls the people disagreeing with our view of the universe.

In America today, have you noticed there’s only One Right Way to think about a lot of things? Climate, race, sexuality – and now health. For years, dissenters to the One Right Way have been met with harsh rhetoric reflecting a growing severity of judgment against the other side – which continues to be all too effective in intimidating and silencing dissent:

Deniers. Racists. Bigots. Haters. 

And yes, those crazy “anti-vaxxers”….who are irrationally fearful, impervious to reasoning, hostile to science, pathologically self-absorbed and clearly possessing no respectable philosophy of their own when it comes to infectious disease management. Yes, these looney-toon folks are simultaneously “anti-science” and enthralled by “pseudoscience” and “quackery,” right?

Amidst the flurry of name-calling, proponents of the dominant narratives across each of these issues are sitting in almost unquestioned power – a place from which you would think they would speak with a greater degree of confidence and comfort. Instead, it seems as if many of them cannot stand when someone voices a minority position. They seethe and rage whenever someone dares proffer another view, in a way not dissimilar to the backlash following Elder Jeffrey Holland’s eloquent and tender talk expressing unorthodox views on sexuality.  

More and more, we see expressions of condemnation against heretics to the various orthodoxies SO intense that good people don’t think twice about agreeing to severe restrictions on the basic freedoms of those who disagree (cue the accelerated rush towards mandates punctuated by President Biden’s recent speech). In recent weeks, I’ve been struck to see two articles in respected national media outlets entitled, “We’re done with the vaccine refusers” and “Make the unvaccinated pay out for their deadly decisions.”

Referring to the recent surge in cases, one author argued it was “clear that the unvaccinated pose a deadly risk to others and themselves” and that it was unfair vaccinated people should “bear the risks and huge financial costs that the unvaccinated are imposing on society” – concluding “Let’s stop coddling the minority, and hold the unvaccinated responsible for the consequences of their own deadly decisions.”

After celebrating the wave of new mandates, the second author stated:

All of this, we can hope, will create an atmosphere in which being unvaccinated by choice will mean voluntarily marginalizing oneself from society. If you’re determined to make that statement about yourself, that you’re the kind of person to whom “freedom” means taking the chance of infecting other people with a virus that has killed millions, we’re going to do everything we can to isolate you.

Wow. Hinting that these same isolation-deserving people were committed to “insane new treatments” and prone to “engaging in unhinged and violent public behavior” this writer concluded that “Our only concern should be keeping ourselves safe from them; they deserve no more consideration than that. They won’t disappear, but we can treat them like social pariahs.”

I have to wonder how other believers respond to these kinds of statements – or to President Biden’s speech putting them into action. It hurts my heart to see such aggressive rhetoric held up nationally as an ideal to follow. In my judgment, it demonstrates the same illiberal, accusing character as other dangerous rhetoric around us. 

Yet compared to the national discussion on sexuality, race, climate change and other issues, I see many fellow Christians around me essentially just nodding their heads (aha…that’s right…guess we better take this next crucial step…After all, didn’t you see FDA approval has finally come?

A dangerous state of affairs. I understand that many people sincerely believe the great danger we’re facing is how many people are deciding to refuse the vaccines – seeing, as they do, the entirety of what is happening right now with the Delta surge as explainable by the choices of unvaccinated Americans.

I do not question for a moment the goodness of these people so committed. But I’m baffled at how incurious many seem to be at the possibility of any other way of seeing what’s happening with the resurging pandemic – taking for granted what they are hearing from popular media outlets as incontrovertible truth.

There are, of course, many scientists and experts outside of allopathic medicine who believe otherwise – and see the source of Delta very differently, but how would you even know what they have to say, since they’re not allowed to openly explain an alternative?

We’re left with a situation where a subset of American see their rights and freedoms being restricted, with little to no ability to raise their voices in defense, since the space to do so itself has become so constricted. Does the pandemic itself not justify these restrictions? And do not these times require us to accept limitations we might not otherwise, for the collective good?

That’s certainly the line of thinking forcefully moving us in this direction: We’re in a crisis. We can’t do what we would normally do! We can’t think the way we normally would think!

It’s also becoming harder and harder for people with questions to speak openly about their reasoning today. So many people are DONE listening to each other. They’re DONE wanting to talk about this – or consider a new way of thinking. 

Because I believe this frightening level of misunderstanding and collapse in dialogue could lead to widening, even violent conflict ahead for this country, I continue to feel compelled to raise my voice. Among the best options we have at our disposal to prevent further deterioration in civil society it is to understand each other for real. I understand that “vaccine dialogue” as I’ve previously dreamed of is impossible. But how about just granting that the person disagreeing with you about vaccination (or anything else) is actually doing so for reasons they genuinely believe are good – and not just for themselves, but for society too? 

Everything I’ve written in recent months about the topic aims to foster space where greater understanding and respect are possible. On one occasion, when I added a paragraph articulating my own decision about vaccination, I later thought better of it – and removed it. I say all this to be absolutely clear what my aim is – and is not, including with this new project below:

The Special Shot Series (see here to download) is a new two-part, super-simple book series aiming to help fellow Americans hearing these kinds of condemnations and escalations in rhetoric at least glimpse why some have come to another conclusion.

Although I’ve sought to be fair, these books do not pretend to be a neutral representation of competing views. Nor are they purely a peace-making effort, since my desire to promote truth and defend freedom transcends that.  

My overriding goal here is NOT to influence people’s specific, personal decisions about how to protect their families – which is one reason I’ve waited this long to publish the books. Rather, it’s to encourage public discussion where different views of healing (and everything else) can be explored openly, in a way that people can discern for themselves what is true and right for their families.

“But at this point in a worsening pandemic, how could you possibly raise your voice like this?” some might understandably wonder. Because this is precisely the moment we need to hear the range of different views (“all the best ideas”) about what’s going on! I say this while respecting those who sincerely believe our redemption in these matters depends on a unity around a single perspective and approach.

I know how tired we all are – exhausted with the conflict and the fear, and so DONE that increasing numbers are now ready to isolate fellow Americans and turn them into “social pariahs” – as well as push them to the brink of losing their jobs.

That should be frightening to all of us in a country found on the idea of freedom. But it’s not. It’s being accepted, taken for granted, and shrugged off. “Oh well, I guess they’ll have to accept losing their job as a consequence of their reckless decision.”

In the very same moment millions of Americans are facing such consequences, their ability to explain themselves has likewise been limited. This book series is dedicated to helping competing views of health – along with different fears and frustrations we’re all feeling – become better understood and considered.

Thank you for listening.  

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D., writes about the implications of competing socio-political and health narratives – and what it takes to preserve public conversation where open exploration of truth in these matters is still possible. To see more, check out my personal blog (http://unthinkable.cc) or my YouTube channel.

4 thoughts on “The Urgency of Understanding

  1. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who thinks those who are hesitant to get the “vaccine” are the cause of the problems can just go to hades. Seriously! Here’s my anecdotal evidence. Last Spring my husband chose to get vaccinated so he could go back to in class instruction at school. He is a high school shop teacher, and online instruction is next to impossible, not to mention boring and inefficient. There is a high population of Hispanics in his school, many are very recent immigrants, not always legal. But he treats everyone the same and finds that some of those students are his best. Monday he began having symptoms and tested positive on Tuesday. So what good was the “vaccine”? It didn’t protect him from being infected. I didn’t have the “vaccine” and now am also sick and tested positive. I’d rather have the natural immunity anyway. Our symptoms are about the same, so forgive me for not believing in a “vaccine” that seems more like a placebo, than an actual inoculation.
    From the Book of Mormon we learn what a righteous government looks like, as well as what an evil one look like. We can discern between the two by asking if this law, measure, etc. gives more personal liberty, or takes away personal liberty. Satan and his minions are all about taking away our freedoms to choose for ourselves. Jesus’ way is giving us the freedom to choose for ourselves and retaining personal responsibility for our choices.
    Our current government has lost all credibility as far as I’m concerned. They are a bunch of satanic tyrants who want to ensure that not one of us is lost. Give me a break. Only the godless believe that is even possible.

  2. I’m so grateful for minds and hearts like Jacob Hess. I feel like he tries to represent the Savior in his desire to be a true Peacemaker.
    The illustrated stories really help lay out the challenges involved in seeking to understand where others are cunning from.
    Thank you, Jacob. The effects of the pandemic on our relationships and on our souls can prove much more harmful than the virus. Thanks for helping us see that.

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