Medicine Isn’t Meaning

If we removed our point of view from our identity, the world would improve. Sadly, when meaning and purpose are lacking, our ideas represent who we are.

The decision to vaccinate or not became more than a health choice. Vaccinators self-identify as reasonable and orderly, while the ‘vaccine-hesitant’ are rebellious freedom fighters. Both denote a cause that fills a gap in meaning.

Immunization choice now grants you access to a tribe with a pre-loaded enemy. Humans like this. The most vocal on either side of the highly politicized debate have more in common than in difference. While few recognize the irony, the similarities are apparent.

  1. You conflate opinion with character
  2. You highlight evidence that supports your view while stifling or ignoring evidence that goes against it
  3. You lift those with similar opinions while piling on those with contrary thoughts, feelings, and concerns
  4. When someone thinks differently than you, they become a lesser individual 
  5. You think you’re right (and to be wrong is a character flaw)

The list goes on. Traits commonly shared between groups stem from well-understood human biases. Reinforced by millennia of social evolution, these traits developed to strengthen small tribes of human beings. Today, it is tribalism.

Unsurprisingly, people fail to recognize the reality of why they think, feel, and act the way they do in ‘us vs. them’ scenarios. “I’m right and righteous, and you are dumb.” It’s as simple as that.  

Like most evolutionary mismatches, things that feel good now hurt us in the long run. Think food, infidelity, and technological distraction. The game of social acceptance is the same. Your subconscious motivations are ultimately destructive. Political and public health systems recognize the benefit of social chaos and pour gas on the flames. We’re eating it up, and they know it.

We may not agree on the current public health policy, but hopefully, we can all agree that our social interactions are hurting our community and humanity. 

When the dust settles, you will have to answer for how you treated people. You’ll justify it, but you can’t escape the effects of how you choose to interact. Try and remember that.

I’m certainly not above any of these biases. No human is. But I do my best to actively recognize when my thoughts, feelings, and actions are ultimately driven by unhelpful nonsense. The courage to acknowledge your true motivation for what you believe or say is what separates you from an animal. If you follow your default system while rationalizing all your isms to protect your fragile ego, you’re essentially an ape with an irresponsible set of tools.

Common humanity isn’t supposed to be circumstantial- i.e., as soon as you believe what I believe, we’re good. The recognition that every person is doing what s/he feels is right, best, or just, but you disagree and can get on with people anyway, is common humanity. Look no further than religion. You can have different beliefs and love the other person for the sake of being a person, or you can use a differing set of ideas to justify running into a restaurant with a bomb strapped to your chest. Both can be rationalized, and which you choose is indeed a choice.

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