Upset about the vaccines? Try a little compassion

COVID19 has brought a number of challenges and opportunities. From the chaos, greater clarity has arisen over what is working and not working in our world. Although we are seeing greater and greater calls for compassion and kindness in our society, there is still a great deal of division among people. One of the topics which is currently dividing people is the issue of vaccination. Although Canada has one of the highest vaccinations rates in the world, with 67% of people being fully vaccinated (80% have received 1 vaccine) there are still a reported 3-5 million people who are not vaccinated even though they can be. Worldwide vaccination rates range from 60% to 6%. The new variant, the Delta variant, is causing a great deal of strife and adding to the divide between those who are adamant that everyone be vaccinated and those who feel their rights are being violated by being forced to vaccinate.

I am lucky enough to have friends of both sides so I can hear their different perspectives. My friends who are vaccinated tout the research shared with them, the minimal side effects and the fact that the vaccine has been shown to decrease the potential of hospitalization and death. The majority of my friends have been vaccinated without much ado. These friends are shocked that anyone would not want to get vaccinated and feel it is irresponsible not to get vaccinated. Even Jennifer Aniston has decided to cut ties with “friends” who are not vaccinated due to the fear that those who are vaccinated are spreading the disease to others and are responsible for keeping the Delta variant alive.

My friends on the other side, tout their own research, including from individuals who are deemed professional by certain universities. Doctors, and lawyers and even MPs (In Ontario, one MP was recently deposed from their party for failing to vaccinate) are touting that the vaccines impact your RNA, are harmful and were not appropriately tested before being rolled out for mass distribution. I know individuals who have had negative consequences due to the vaccine though thankfully short lived. My friends currently do not trust the government, want other options, and feel their rights are being violated as the government creates a “two tier” system. Many companies are taking the stance that if you don’t get vaccinated you will be fired. And there is talk about a vaccine passport not just nationally but internationally.

One thing I have noticed as I listen to both sides is that individuals on both sides have the same goals. The people who are vaccinated are worried about their health, their family and friends and want to protect themselves and others and want COVID to be over. My unvaccinated friends, are also worried about their health, their family, and friends and also want COVID to be a distant memory. However, how each group goes about managing their fears is different. Both groups are judging the other’s behaviors, reasons (common sense), and ethics.

So how can we come together? I personally feel that “forcing people”, never resolves a problem. It just goes underground. What happens when one side takes a hard stance is that the other side digs in and the anti usually goes up. I believe that honest, transparent and non-judgmental dialogue is the path to coming together. So how can this occur?

Equanimity is a key aspect of compassion. It is based on the Buddhist wisdom of allowing all things to be. We like to think of it as allowing all things to be without judgement which is a key part of compassion. Compassion for others, including those who act in hurtful ways, always starts with ourselves. We must give to ourselves that which we feel we are losing or being deprived of by the other. If you are worried about getting COVID or are worried about another lockdown, give yourself some soothing and reassurance about your resiliency and your own ability to overcome. If you think this is ridiculous, let me share this: research has shown that stress causes many of today’s illnesses from cardiovascular disease to cancer. If it is doesn’t cause it, it greatly contributes to it. A healthy immune system means not constantly living under the hormones of stress and in hypervigilance. When we are able to soothe our fears through self-nurturance than we are more likely to be able to lean into and get curious about the behavior of others. Same goes for our children. If we are worried about their well being, they will pick up on our stress! I know my children have shared with me when they feel safe enough to venture out and when they prefer to stay home and stay safe. Including children in the dialogue gives them some mastery over their health and body.

So how can we give ourselves a little compassion when we are struggling and when we are trying to hold space for ourselves and others? Try our self-compassion break found here if you are feeling shame or anger over other’s decisions, or our “roots” compassion when you are feeling lonely and disconnected.

The following exercise was taught to me by my friend Dr. Susan Pollock, who recently sat down with me to chat about compassion in parenting. She shares the following exercise to help us see ourselves and others with more compassion: You can do this exercise standing or sitting down. Place our feet squarely on the floor and take three deep breaths in and out. You don’t have to close your eyes for this exercise. Extend your hands out and look at them. Start with the top of your hands and then turn to look at the palm of your hands. Ask yourself what do you see? Describe this mentally to yourself. Now close your eyes and place your attention on your heart. Breath in and out of your heart three times. Now open your eyes and look at your hands again through your heart. What do you see now? Does seeing through your heart give you a different picture? Susan uses this practice with her clients and they find it very effective in getting them to shift their perspective quickly. Can you use your heart to see yourself and others more lovingly?

TRY IT…it doesn’t hurt and may help you feel more at ease during challenging times.

UPDATE- One of the comments someone made to me recently was this post does not cover a group of people who are clearly anti-vaxxers, who are also not wearing masks and believe that COVID19 is a hoax. These individuals are believed to be perpetuating COVID and impacting the propagation of the disease so I wanted to also address this issue. One of the individuals I have deep admiration for is Mr. Daryl Davis author of KKKlandestine relationships. You can learn more about his journey here. Mr. Davis is a black musician who wanted to understand the behaviour of racist individuals. He looked at those whom he would call his enemies and dared to wonder about them. He dared to ask: “why do you hate me?”. He offered respect to those who said they hated him and sat down with many KKK leaders and followers to have conversations and understand their perspective. Through his conversations he managed to get many people to leave the Klan and advocate against racism. Mr. Davis did not use force, or punishment, or coercision or shame. He offered respect and got curious about the beliefs of Klan members. To date I don’t know anyone as successful in getting top Klan members to abandon their lifestyles. Now I should state that not everyone may be able to do this, especially those who have trauma from their experiences. In those cases, those with trauma must focus on their own self-love and self-healing and allow others to get curious about those that are hurtful.

So I ask you, how can we come together to get curious about one another?

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