If you are sensitive to others’ emotions or tuned into worldly affairs, you know all about the fear that is shaking every human on this planet to their core.
Whatever it is that just popped into your mind. That’s what I’m talking about.
A week before my son started school, we had to drop in to sign forms, pick out his locker, and grab his new textbooks. As we stepped up to the administrator’s desk to check-in, she asked Mitchell how his summer went, and his reply was, “boring.”
That one word seared through my skin and bones straight to my heart.
My boys are well into their teens now and won’t want to be around their parents much longer. Summer is short in our part of the world, and the number of summers we have left to make adventurous and exciting for our kids is very few. Yet, what did we do this summer? Nothing. We stayed indoors because of the horrible air quality with the raging wildfires. I worked on my book, and the kids played video games. We didn’t travel because of fires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, protests, and a pandemic. We didn’t explore.
If there is anything that is connecting all of us right now, it is fear. If there is anything that is dividing us right now, it is also fear.
Some of us fear getting sick with a virus. Some of us fear having our freedoms taken away. Some fear governments have too much power, and others fear that corporations and billionaires have too much control. Most of us fear that “the other side” is being brainwashed. I can promise you that if the driving emotion is fear, whatever story you are told will sound accurate. If you look for “evidence” supporting your fear online, you will find it.
Very often, the emotion that rides the coattails of fear is anger. And anger is where the division is born.
Way back in 2008, I wrote a piece about Proposition 8 in California that centred on marriage equality. In that piece, I wrote that it’s not fair to ask for a majority vote on a subject that affects a minority of people. Leadership involves protecting those who are disenfranchised and whose voices can easily get drowned out. Recently, I had to check in with myself to see if I felt the same way when it came to the 25% of people who don’t want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Do I feel the same concern for anti-vaxxers being in the minority as I did for same-sex couples wishing to get married?
What about my vehement opposition to anyone regulating what one person can and cannot do with their body? From access to abortion to mandatory sterilization or access to gender-affirming surgery and medical assistance in dying, I have strong views on informed consent and bodily autonomy.
I can see how someone might fear they’re losing their freedom if vaccine passports restrict them from going to a hockey game or working in a nursing home. However, it wasn’t until I looked at it through two of my core values that I reconciled this unease. Those values are choice and co-creation.
It’s been said many times by many experts that human beings long to belong. We are social animals who want to know that we matter to our family, friends, and communities, small or large. Belonging for me goes hand in hand with interconnectedness and interdependence. They all have to do with being part of a larger whole. Nothing illustrates that better than a global pandemic where no one country was spared from the virus or the effects of global climate change that don’t care which country is creating the damage to the planet.
Belonging has an upside and a downside. The downside is that when we live in fear and look for control over the things that scare us, we look to belong to a group that agrees with us, leading us to “othering” people who don’t agree with our point of view. “Us vs. them” sentiments are a worse epidemic than the Delta variant and spreading faster than this year’s wildfires. The more fear and anger get stoked in our groups, the more we are divided and the more we suffer.
The upside to belonging is found in seeing the humanity in others. Seeing what we have in common with the people who want vaccine passports and the people who are afraid of getting the vaccine, and the people who don’t believe the vaccine is the answer at all. No matter where we stand on the issue, we need to see that there is an issue, and that issue is divisiveness. Once we can all come together and row the boat in the same direction, we will be free of fear and separation.
Back to my core values of choice and co-creation. I genuinely do believe in choice. I also know that every choice has a consequence. Sometimes that consequence is personal, and sometimes that consequence is societal or even global. I can choose to drink a whole bottle of wine and chase it with a couple of shots of bourbon. My personal consequence will be hugging porcelain before the end of the night and a nasty headache the next day. There would be a societal consequence if I decided to get behind the wheel of my car and jump on the highway and cause a seven-car pile-up. That is why laws are preventing me from drinking and driving. I also couldn’t drink that amount and work as a nurse. These laws are not removing my choices; they are limiting the consequences to society. You can choose not to get vaccinated and live with the personal consequence if you get sick. But masks, social distancing, and vaccine passports limit the consequences of a virulent disease to society—namely, the unvaccinated young and immunocompromised. If you don’t want to get vaccinated after being fully informed, I respect your ability to consent. But everyone must respect societal consequences.
Finally, co-creating is an extension of choice. It is a democracy where we all have a say in making our world together. This requires that we listen (truly listen) and see the humanity in the person sharing their view. But most importantly, the “co” in co-creating stands for joint, mutual, and common—the opposite of “Us vs. Them.”
Our only hope out of our current state of fear is to go deep, see the humanity in others, and co-operate for a better future for everyone. Together.