See the Other Side

Happy 4th of July (Observed)!

I hadn’t planned to post, and this is a short one, but the reactions to the last post left me with something to say.

One of my tricks in teaching is the midterm evaluation. In every class I give the students the chance to weigh in halfway through, with any advice for what they would change. One reason to do this is to find out if there are (fixable) things I’m doing wrong (yes, always). But the second is to surface the student comments to each other.

After the evaluations, I do a little post-mortem to show the students what they said. Doing this surface the diversity of experiences. I tend to teach fairly math-heavy classes, but I try to teach them accessibly. Invariably, I will get at least one comment that says “There is too much math” and at least one that says “I wish there was more math.” By putting those comments in front of the students (anonymously) they get a sense of what others are thinking, a better appreciation for the needs of their fellow students.

I feel the same surfacing may be useful now, in the context of COVID-19. Last week I wrote about an approach to situations with unvaccinated relatives. I got many responses, and I was struck in a number of cases by the discordance. I want to be clear: these were all civil, thoughtful, responses. (Yes, I got some of the other kind, too).

But the fact is that people simply see this differently. Let’s look at some examples.

On the one hand, people wrote to, basically, say that it was hugely mistaken to remove any of the focus from encouraging people to vaccinate.

Example 1:

This particular newsletter came across as very dismissive of trying to convince friends and family to get vaccinated. I know how ever newsletter will be all things to all people, but this seems very important, low-hanging fruit: convince the ONE adult in a group of otherwise vaccinated adults. We might not be able to individually make huge inroads in entire vaccine-resistant communities, but convincing the hold outs in our otherwise vaccinated communities seems reasonable to prioritize.

Example 2:

I would make those grandparents get weekly PCR every week and rapid tests every day before caring for my child. Why would family choose to put a young kid at risk for their own selfish reasons when long term implications of the disease on kids is not fully understood? Why is that not the response? And make the decision theirs not yours as to whether you have to be anxious when there is a very simple option available to alleviate anxiety called getting vaccinated.

But: there is a flip side. A number of people, effectively, argued that given the low risks to kids the downside of alienating or isolating grandparents or other family is too great. To be clear: these example below aren’t arguing that vaccines are unsafe, or that they cause disease, or anything in that space. They’re putting weight elsewhere in the calculation.

Example 1:

But asking grandparents to test themselves weekly in order to see their grandson 2x a week seems excessive. The idea that they will get the child sick - is the child also to be tested weekly? I would hate for this suggestion to put a wedge in this family - or worse isolate these grandparents. If they are in fact careful and refuse to be vaccinated isn't it the child who should be tested weekly? Not sure the correct answer but that last sentence just seemed really off to me. This request is costly1, not easy for elderly people to do and can be insulting - and damaging to their relationship.

Example 2:

That you would see an ill family member as a "threat" is strange. I see that person as someone who needs my help. Period. Even if you have COVID, I'll come help you get better. This article is even suggesting that it would be better to get this unvaccinated person uninvited from the gathering. 

I’m not suggesting here that one of these views is right, or more right, than the other. What I’m suggesting is that this says, to me at least, that there are conflicting views on these topics, even for people who agree on the science and who have made the same choices about vaccination for themselves and who would all like their family members to be vaccinated.

A common result of midterm evaluations in teaching is to dampen down frustration. Understanding that other peers, people they respect, actually like X approach or Y approach can make it easier to work through. Perhaps in vain, my hope is this might do the same. As others have pointed out, we are entering a point in the pandemic where people will make different choices about activities. Some vaccinated people will still wear masks to the office. Some parents will have their kids wear masks at the playground. Some will not.

There is a strong temptation to judge or argue. As parents, we have felt this before. When other parents are, say, breastfeeding too much or not enough. When they are sleep training too much, or not enough. Too many applesauce pouches. Not enough carrots. The fact is that our fellow parent interactions are better if we dial down this judgement and recognize that reasonable people will make different choices, and it doesn’t make either choice bad.

The same may be true here. It may be reasonable to approach the problem of unvaccinated family members by refusing to interact until they are vaccinated, or continuing to try to convince them. It may also be reasonable to see them with minimal restrictions, given the current virus situation and the value to family relationships. And if we spend our time arguing with each other about this, we may miss opportunities to focus together on things that really matter, like making vaccines as accessible as possible.

The fact is, when we are sure our position is right, it can be hard to see the other side. But we might be able to make more progress if we try.


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Editors note: this issue of cost was raised in a number of emails and before dismissing this plan for this reason I would look for a close, free, testing site through the HHS search