True to my nature, I have been trying to figure out how and why we have come to such a bizarre impasse in our country. If I were a cartoonist, I would draw two lines of people facing each other …
True to my nature, I have been trying to figure out how and why we have come to such a bizarre impasse in our country. If I were a cartoonist, I would draw two lines of people facing each other nose-to-nose across a deep divide, heels dug in, mouths set in stubborn grimaces, glaring at each other, as the edges of the crevasse crumble away under their toes, threatening to tumble them all down into the abyss. They can save themselves if they’ll only take a step back and reach out to make a human chain to pull everyone to safety.
I have been just bumfuzzled about the intensity of the resistance to masks and vaccines. A friend and I were talking today about the selfish unwillingness of people to consider the common good in making these decisions, and she revealed that her husband refused to be vaccinated. When she tried to have a discussion about the possible effects on others, his only response was, “They can’t tell me what to do!” I was amazed to learn that his mining company employers have offered to pay all employees $1,500 for each of two vaccinations, plus an added bonus of an expensive, giant cooler. His response? He didn’t need $3,000 that bad. My friend said, “Tell them you’ll take it if they fill it with Miller.” Heck, for $3,000 I’d let them suck the vaccines out of me and give them to me again!
I have often found it puzzling that we human beings need to be coerced or bribed to do things that are good for us. I have received coupons from my insurance company that will pay me $20 to $50 for getting a colonoscopy or mammogram. This type of payment is a little bit more understandable from a profit/loss standpoint, for if these preventative measures uncover problems earlier, it could presumably mean lower medical costs that the insurance company would be liable for. Plus, neither of these procedures are a joy to anticipate, so perhaps a little incentive is not so out of line.
Digging deeper into the psychological bedrock of our resistance, I think there are many factors, but perhaps this foot-stomping, you’re-not-the-boss-of-me, I-can-do-what-I-damn-well-please intransigence comes down to our psyches screaming out for recognition, writhing in agony because we feel invisible and powerless in the face of everything that is happening in our country and our world.
In the long view, men have had to face that they’re really not the stronger sex except perhaps when lifting weights, while women show themselves as brilliant, creative, and resilient in spite of continued efforts to keep them down. Women have to live with the fact that we’re still quite a long way from fair, equal pay even when we’re often doing the heavy lifting at work and at home, expected to keep things running, while at the same time have lost some of the benefits of being the protected homemaker. Young people are facing a world with monumental messes they didn’t create, wondering where the elders are that they can emulate. And then the pandemic hit.
Some people had thought, if nothing else, a pandemic might bring people together to fight the common enemy. Wrong again. I think what has happened is that the coronavirus has made it evident that we really are quite vulnerable creatures, dependent on brilliant scientists to rescue us, yet still remaining vulnerable to the quirks of new viruses to come. Although scientists have warned us for years that the overuse of antibiotics could create drug-resistant bacteria, we remain shocked that viruses we can’t even see have taken down so many and threaten the rest of us. Some of us, lacking any other reasonable response, stand up to the bully virus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, yelling, “You can’t tell me what to do!” Then we can dust off our hands, belly up to the bar, down a brewski or a cappuccino, saying, “Guess I told them!” It kind of has the nostalgic essence of standing on the wooden porch protecting the homestead, rifle in hand, sending the message of strength whether there are any rustlers in the bushes or not. At least we’re doing something.
I think there’s also another layer with a different flavor that factors in here. It is a bit more elusive. It’s the part of us defined by a sense of place. Having a sense of place can give us a grounding, a deep knowledge of where we belong, which is often a physical place, but it doesn’t have to be.
I was born and raised in the Midwest, and when I lived in Colorado near the Rockies, I longed for lingering sunsets and the abundance of lakes, rivers, and dramatic thunderstorms I’d taken for granted. I missed the luxurious, soft lawns of grass, while the tumbleweeds and scrawny piñon trees left me hungry for majestic oak, maple, elm, evergreen and apple trees, the stalwart guardians and playgrounds of my childhood. Along the way I realized I was Midwestern to my core, even when I wanted to be someone more exotic. The Western deserts and craggy landforms created by wind and water filled me with awe combined with the clear sense of being a stranger, knowing I could live there but never completely belong.
The predictability of our existence is part of that sense of place, and one of the reasons we often resent and resist change. Newcomers to an area are often resented because they bring change or at least bring the differences of their own selves to our comfortable sameness, requiring adjustments in our lives. It can be as minor as, “I don’t know that person walking down my street.” The coronavirus moved in on us, like an unwelcome stranger, infecting our communities, bringing death, and demanding changes for self-protection and the health of the community: masking, disinfecting, distancing, isolation, vaccines. We couldn’t protest its arrival by chalking messages on sidewalks, “COVID, go home!” – an ineffective protest technique sometimes tried on humans perceived to be intrusive. Without knowing an end in sight, many of us have felt disoriented, discouraged, lonely, hopeless, and certainly weary. How to fight back? How to get over it? Our “place” has been changed, probably permanently and unpredictably. We stomp our feet and feel the earth wobble. But at least we have the freedom and independence to shout in the wind.
Postscript: According to The New York Times, approximately 1,500 people have died of COVID every day this last week with a lower U.S. vaccination rate than Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. According to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, only 58 percent of self-identified Republicans are vaccinated, compared with 90 percent of Democrats. The Times calls it “a triumph of misinformation.”
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