Editorial: On Vaccine Skepticism, Empathy and Respect

Aaron Mathey, [email protected], Multimedia Editor

In many ways, living in the United States necessitates a critical instinct in everything that we do. We learn the dominant narratives in our culture are often imperfect in the best cases, and destructive and harmful in the worst cases.

We learn that monuments in community meeting places are dedicated to white supremacists.

We learn that our K-12 education neglected and wiped clean the horrifically common instances of violence committed by the same power structures we perpetuate and live under today.

We learn that minority groups and economically disadvantaged people have, in fact, been harmed by powerful groups in the name of healthcare.

It is not a surprise that many people do not trust private corporations who make money by selling cures.

It is not a surprise many people do not trust the United States government to facilitate this in an equitable and harm-reducing process.

The problem occurs when one meets information that justifies their skepticism of the dominant narrative, and good critical impulse stops being critical. This is skepticism for the sake of skepticism, not skepticism in the interest of truth.

I encourage our readers who are skeptical of vaccines to apply anti-vaccination or COVID-skeptical media with the same critical impulse they treat mainstream media and pro-vaccine sources with.

I think sometimes we mistake the idea of looking at both sides of an issue with the idea that both sides of an issue are in all cases equally valid. This mode of reasoning only serves to exacerbate this global health crisis and to decompose our collective media literacy skills.

I encourage our readers who trust the vaccination process and rollout to meet vaccine-critical people in their lives more than halfway for the good of us all. I’ve found in my own life that changing minds takes work, and we don’t always feel that it is our obligation to do so- and I agree that it isn’t in all cases.

Even if it’s hard, people will not be convinced when they feel disrespected. 

Even if it’s hard, you have to find true empathy and respect for another person if you’re going to convince them of anything in a way that is long-lasting and most meaningful.

I believe treating people with empathy is a sign of respect.

I also believe thinking critically about what someone thinks is a sign of respect.

So please, admit when systems are imperfect. Admit when a concern is valid, or a question remains unanswered. Argue with each other from the position of a collective interest and love for other people. 

Educate yourself on how historically-informed cultural differences based on class, race, gender, or sexuality may influence someone’s skepticism or trust (this isn’t always as straightforward as you might guess). 

Understand that you will not convince everyone- and that’s okay. Sometimes the most we can hope for is to help our fellow community-members think in a more healthy, productive, nuanced way. 

Good luck out there everyone.

Happy Valentines Day

Aaron Mathey

Multimedia Editor