As the Covid crisis keeps on unfolding I have noticed increasing divide among people who view it differently. This has created sadness in me as I've witnessed good friends being in conflict, sometimes members of the same family strongly disagreeing and using hurtful language of each other. I confess I have been mostly triggered by this divide I've witnessed and have started to wonder how I could help in creating more clarity, compassion and understanding. All seem to be convinced that their way of thinking is the right way. So I started to list the needs of people reacting differently to covid and restrictions. You can find it at the end of this post.
Beyond the dualistic paradigm and right/wrong thinking?
So how can we understand someone who views things from a totally different perspective? NVC (Non Violent Communication) would look at it from a needs point of view, what are the needs behind others behaviour? However, it is not always possible, sometimes we just don't have the willingness to understand. When we are stuck in our perspective, it is hard to see someone else's point of view, let alone understand it. So how can we increase the willingness? I think the first way is to see and admit- that there is no absolute right or wrong. We give meanings to whatever happens and there are endless ways of giving meanings to things. This post is my attempt to increase the willingness and create understanding for someone who thinks differently around covid.
Is this dangerous or not?
When we encounter new things it is in our natural brain structure to make a quick evaluation on whether this new thing is dangerous or not. Is this a threat to myself or my family/tribe/community/species? Do I fight, fly, freeze or relax? This happens in an instant. Is it a jaguar I see or just a shadow of a branch? Mistaking it for a shadow or mistaking poisonous berries for edibles is a dangerous choice in an evolutionary point of view. It is literally a question of our survival so this process has been most useful to us during our evolution.
My understanding is that the reason why we respond so differently to covid 19 is this different judgement in whether covid is dangerous or not. Often what then happens after this initial judgement is that we tend to stick to it, whether or not the information changes and so what is called a confirmation bias happens. So anyone who has made the assumption that this is not dangerous will ignore the science, arguments etc. done by anyone with a different underlying assumption. Same goes for the ones believing this is dangerous, they might ignore arguments that undermine the danger in any way.
Different time perspectives?
Globally governments, WHO and most science have come to the conclusion that yes, this is dangerous, it is a pandemic and so governments etc. go into the category A. Globally we are using the precautionary principle for this crisis. Since we don’t know exactly what will happen, we are doing everything to be on the safe side. In a global scale, we are not willing to take risks that might cause harm, so we act in a preventive measure. This approach is looking at the 'is this dangerous-question' from a present time perspective- there is evidence that people are getting infected and dying from covid-19 in the present time, right now. So yes-it is dangerous.
But there are some scientists, and people who look at covid from a no-it's not dangerous perspective and so land in my category B. They might be looking at it from a deep time or evolutionary time perspective- Yes-it might be dangerous now for some, but not from an evolutionary perspective - It does not threaten the survival of our species, so they conclude that no - it is not dangerous enough. So here are two different ways of looking at the same thing- YES and NO, deep evolutionary time and present time, A and B.
Different definitions of risk and danger?
Often what happens when two people with opposing view argue, they try to convince each other with facts. This rarely goes anywhere if there is no willingness to listen. And it is hard to argue about the facts if the underlying assumption of what is dangerous is where the disagreement lies. So instead of arguing about the articles, facts, figures, numbers, death rates, after effects or post diseases, etc. while neither will change their view, what we should be concentrating is the different DEFINITIONS of danger. What does danger mean to you? What is risky? What are the reasons, values, feelings and needs behind your definition? Instead of arguing, an attempt to understand might be more constructive.
The people who are willing to look at it from an evolutionary perspective see some death as necessary- a risk involved in life. They might look at disease as a part of life. So their definition of risk and danger is different, and at a much higher threshold. Maybe there is less emphasis on safety and more on freedom. The people looking at the present time, are concerned of safety right now. Safety for the present for everyone. There is less emphasis on freedom and more on safety and care. So the definition of danger and risk is at a lower threshold. So in this conflict it looks like we have several "opposing" needs and the main ones seem to be freedom and safety.
Both views are looking at the "good of the whole" and both have beautiful needs that are under their behaviour and feelings. I also understand that very few people are strictly in one of these categories, some people I know seem to be undecided and only some are clearly either A or B. Nothing is dualistic or black and white. And of course it doesn't mean that people on the A category don't care about freedom or that the people in B category wouldn't care at all about safety. I'm sure they do, it is just a question of what matters MORE to them.
What is important to you?
The conflict in different ways of approaching covid19 might make us label "the others" with different negative labels. They are "stupid", "ignorant", "overly fearful" "crazy" etc. But the labelling only tells of our own needs- what is so important to us? Instead of judging, could we hear what is important to the "other"?
The people thinking that NO-this is not dangerous might fear that while we are devoting so much of our time, energy and resources to covid and the restrictions, we are failing to respond to a bigger existential threat- the climate and ecological crisis. And that all this is actually preventing us from doing the necessary work needed to create radical change to save ourselves and our species (among with a massive amount of other species). Or maybe they really really value intimacy, touch, community and connection. And they see there is more pain in losing the freedom to do these things live with other people than the need for safety now even if that means death. As said above, they might accept risk as a part of life and really value the freedom and quality of life (and death) as MORE important than the safety. So what's really important for them? Intimacy, connection, community, co-operation, love, touch, freedom, ability to work, quality of life and death and surely many more needs.
The people thinking that Yes - this is dangerous might think that the present threat of covid needs to be dealt with efficiently to assure safety to everyone. There is a need to prevent harm. There is a need to protect, especially the sick, elderly and other vulnerable people. There is emphasis on love and equality- for the dear ones, for the minorities who have been suffering more. They value the connection and everything else that the other group too but they value MORE the safety and taking responsibility. They might value knowing they really have done all they can to prevent harm from coming to themselves or others. So what's really important to them? Responsibility and safety for all, not just privileged healthy people, care for the whole, equality, health, preciousness of all life, love, wellbeing and safety of others, togetherness, co-operation, community etc.
So to come back to my evolutionary metaphor - while some of us really want to take care of the issue of the poisonous berries to prevent harm happening for any more people, some of us seem to look at the berries as only slightly poisonous and fear that while we are arguing about the berries, a jaguar can sneak on us and eat the whole village. So which of them is ultimately right?
No right or wrong?
If there is something we can learn from evolution and our brain it is that we NEED each other for survival. We are wired for connection and relationship. Our brains have been wired for social connections. But we are no longer depending on survival of small communities or tribes, we will either fall or fly together globally. That’s a huge task. It means being able to get along. To co-operate. Not be divided in in-groups and out-groups. To see the human in the "other".
So would it help bring willingness to listen to the others needs to see there is no right way? By shifting our focus or our definition of danger we can see that both are absolutely "right". Yes, people are dying and have died, and certainly for the dead ones and their loved ones, this most certainly is/was an existential crisis, a matter of life and death and so YES it is dangerous. And at the same time, covid will not kill all humans, or even most of us, so they too are right, NO it is not dangerous from evolutionary point of view. Both are right. So which ever way you are inclined to think- Can you see that all of us have feelings and needs that are valid, beautiful and important? Can you see the other as human and not "other"?
I do see that i cannot possibly know how all people think and react to covid, this is just my attempt at understanding some needs behind each of our behaviours based on people I know. This is also my attempt to narrow the gap between some of us. I so yearn for a way for ALL needs taking into account and at least listened to if not possible to be taken into account. I so yearn for more understanding and empathy and curiosity, also in a global/governmental level so we don't get stuck in black and white thinking.