Pandemic of Contention

If you haven’t already read my last blog entry, “The Partial Illusion of Free Will”, please go back and read it now. It lays the foundation for what I’m writing about today. I’ve been dealing with a lot of people who are very stressed out. There is a lot of conflict in the world. There always has been, but we have new issues that we’re not used to dealing with and don’t know quite how to handle. I’m seeing a lot of discord and contention between groups of people. There are always lots of issues to disagree with, but there are two categories of issues that are currently at the forefront that I wish to discuss. This isn’t so much about the issues themselves but more about the contention itself. These two categories are health and politics. I am not neutral in these areas. I have some passionate feelings about both of them. However, the purpose of this writing is not to convince you of my way of thinking. I will do my best to set aside my feelings and look at the overall problems objectively.

Politically, in the United States, we have a wide division between liberals and conservatives. People have always leaned one way or the other, but we mostly got along with each other. Today, especially leading up to and right after the last presidential election, I see huge amounts of bad feelings on both sides of the aisle. I read comments from both groups about how horrible and illogical the people in the other group are. It can be difficult to understand why people even think the way that they do. That’s why I suggested reading my previous article before this one. Even if we try to be compassionate and understanding, which not all people do, we cannot see the world through another person’s eyes.

Let’s look at a simple example. I’ve always wondered why foods that I find very tasty some people can’t stand, and vice versa. Why do I have a favorite color and you have a different favorite color? What I’ve wondered about a great deal is whether or not my experiences are the same as yours. Our eyes pick up a certain frequency and we’re taught that it’s orange, for example. Am I seeing exactly the same color that you’re seeing when you look at the color orange? Does catsup taste the same in your mouth as it does in mine? We can’t know what that experience is unless we are somehow able to occupy another person’s body and brain.

What does that have to do with politics and health issues? Every person experiences the world in their own way. This characterizes their viewpoints and causes them to react to situations in their own unique ways. When we see or hear something that is in alignment with our view of the world, we tune into it and are drawn toward it. Sometimes that even makes us oblivious to other information that does not conform to our reality. People like to claim to be objective, to weigh both sides and draw a logical conclusion from the facts at hand. I say that’s rare, if not impossible. Everyone naturally tunes into data that fit their viewpoints and understanding and naturally tunes out information that doesn’t fit. As we progress through life, our stances on politics, morals and other values become more solidified as we selectively gather more and more information that fits our reality.

In our current society, opinions on politics and health have become very intertwined. As I talk with other people about hot topics related to the pandemic, I have quickly realized that it’s not so much about health facts as it is about political persuasion. Liberals tend to look at our healthcare policies and how the pandemic has been handled one way, while conservatives tend to look at it in a very different way. The basic facts are the same, the pandemic is the same, and yet people see it very differently. I realize that it’s not all black and white and that there is some crossover, but I have seen very definite divisions along these lines. Both sides seem to have plenty of information to support their viewpoints, but there doesn’t seem to be any definitive proof for either side, though emotions can make it seem like there is no question of the validity of one’s opinions.

So, what is my purpose in all of this? I am calling for compassion and understanding, and most of all, mutual respect. Differing opinions can be so loudly pronounced that it seems at times that we’re on the verge of another civil war. To get down to the nitty gritty, mask wearers should not come down on people who don’t believe in wearing masks. Those who don’t believe in wearing masks should not ridicule those who choose to wear them or refuse to follow mask policies in businesses that require them. Anti-vaxers should not ridicule those who believe in getting the vaccine. Those who are in favor of the vaccinations should not come down on or mandate vaccinations for those who don’t believe that the vaccinations are necessary or healthy. I realize that there are many people who feel that the only way out of this pandemic is to get everyone vaccinated and to make sure everyone keeps wearing masks and practicing social distancing until the pandemic is completely under control. No matter how strongly people feel about this and how much scientific evidence they believe exists to support this belief, it’s still only an opinion, not a proven fact.

Again, my purpose here is not to show which approach is right and which is wrong. All I’m saying is that neither group is evil or stupid. The contention and division in our society could become more damaging than the pandemic itself. You don’t have to agree with someone else’s viewpoint to treat them with respect and courtesy. We just have to understand that we all see things our own way. If you see things differently than I do, that doesn’t make you wrong. It only makes you human.

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