Peace, love and oneness – that’s my daily mantra. Boy, is that hard to live during these times of global pandemic! I fundamentally believe in equality. It is an absolute for me. Irrespective of status, wealth, health, gender, sexuality, race, culture, ability, age, body shape and size – we all fundamentally have equal worth. I know that’s not how the world operates. So, I’m used to feeling ‘on the outside’. I don’t buy into dominant narratives easily, and in fact, I’ve spent a great deal of my life disentangling myself from them.

I’m going to talk about the dreaded vaccination divide.

It feels a little dangerous to do so.

I know, from many experiences in various social situations that it can quickly and easily deteriorate into an extremely polarised and heavily defended argument.

I write to make sense of my own dilemmas and in the hope that it may be useful and interesting to others. This piece isn’t propaganda, I’m not an influencer, and I’m not defending the particular side of the divide that I find myself on. I’m just trying to make sense of, and navigate, what feels like a bit of a minefield at the moment.

I’ve held outlying beliefs for most of my life; I’m an environmentalist, a vegetarian (mostly), I believe in preventative health over the mainstream model, I have a healthy distrust of media and I certainly don’t think our governments have all the answers.

And, I’m vaccinated.

I’m not about to mount a defense of my decision. In encounters with people ‘from the other side’ of the decision, not all the time, but on occasion, I have felt judged. And, that hurts. I’ve done what seems to me, a wholesome and responsible thing. To have that criticised is hurtful. I’ve felt what it feels like to be dismissed wholesale because of one decision I’ve made, and it doesn’t feel nice. Suddenly, I’m recognising what the minority of us whose decision has been to remain unvaccinated must be feeling in mainstream society at the moment.

My interest is not in perpetuating the divide but in finding a way to navigate it that aligns with my core values of equality and non-separation. The hurt triggers anger. The rationalisations, justifications and fantasies about how I can rid the world of such destructive ideas begin. Before I know it, I’ve fallen.

Fallen into righteous judgement.

It’s a slippery slope.

I’m trying to work out why I feel so angry and threatened by vehement opinions from ‘the other side’ around this issue. I’m usually much happier to live and let live and I’m genuinely puzzled by how threatened I feel when I’m exposed to them. I don’t recall feeling this way around other issues. Perhaps it is simply that this is currently the only issue in town – and it’s global. It’s big. We are definitely experiencing challenges to our physical, mental and emotional well-being that, in my lifetime at least, are certainly unprecedented. The stakes are high. Emotions are high.

I don’t want the vaccination issue to divide me from my friends and even strangers. I also don’t want to be judged for making what seems like a wholesome decision for my life and the preservation of other’s lives. I don’t want to feel unsafe in social situations, and I don’t want people who have chosen differently to me to feel that way either.

I think the answer for me is to step out of the divide, the binary. To broaden my thinking to allow enough space for all the various perspectives.

And, not need to be right.

A shift from the absolute to the relative. My decision is right for me. Your decision is right for you. I want to respect people’s choices, knowing that they’re different to mine without feeling the need to convert them, or destroy them.

I’m drawing on the work of Martha Beck to help me make sense of all this. She offers a wonderful understanding of what happens when we tip from anger into violence. (I don’t necessarily mean the type of violence when you punch someone in the nose. It could be the verbal, emotional, mental or spiritual dismissal of another human being.) The associated distinction is between ‘healthy discernment’ and ‘righteous judgement’. I’ve mapped it out into a table below to help me (and you if you’re interested) to work out when the line is crossed.

Healthy discernment Righteous judgement
Anger – a normal healthy response to injustice or ill treatment (fuel for change) Violence – attack with the sole purpose of causing suffering and destruction (hurt, damage or kill)
seeks new information avoids new information
acknowledges shades of grey sees only black and white
learns about many topics obsesses about a few topics
acknowledges fallibility insists upon infallibility
Sees all people as connected Sees all people as ‘us versus them’ (‘othering’)
compels action that reduces anger compels action that increases anger
can imagine other perspectives insists only on its own perspective

Clearly, both sides of the vaccination divide are capable of slipping into righteous judgement. I’ve witnessed clear examples from both camps, and been there myself. But righteous judgement does nothing to bring peace to the world. And, peace, is where my strongest allegiance lies. As Martha says ‘It takes wisdom and maturity to use anger for change’. We need to tread carefully.

Healthy discernment still affords me the ability to set boundaries, decide to distance myself from certain individuals (even if just to make sense of my own reactions) and select the social circles I move in and the events I attend.

In fact, what I’ve noticed is, that if I find myself investing in internal dialogue about who’s right and who’s wrong, that all I’m doing is wasting my ‘bandwidth’ and energy in trying to come to a conclusion. What works for me is to trust my body as I move about the world. My sense internally of what’s right for me. This doesn’t need to be rationalised (in fact I’d be denying a far greater intelligence if I did that). If in my heart, body and mind something feels off, not quite right – for me – that is enough.

I find a particular sticky thought, personally, is along the lines of, ‘but this situation requires us to all work together, cooperate, for the greater good, etc, etc. Now it’s time for me to recognise my sphere of influence, what I can control and what I can’t. I don’t want to spend my energy arguing about the way other people are, the way the world is, the way they should be.

Dissenting views are important. The world needs mavericks. It’s how we make big leaps, move forward. Think of Copernicus, Galileao, Louis Pasteur, the Wright Brothers, who were all ridiculed in their time. It would be very boring if we all agreed about everything. To leave a question mark hovering over this whole divide suits me just fine. I’m very comfortable to sit with ‘I don’t know’ about a lot of what is going on around vaccinations and our current systems and structures. I base my decisions on the information I have to hand and my first-hand experience. And, also because I want to trust.

I’m grateful for the systems and institutions we have; health, science, government, media, logistics, they do some wonderful things that I rely on heavily. My personal sovereignty allows me to decide for myself and still respect these systems and structures and the job they do. I don’t always agree with the dominant narrative and I will pick my own path, and my own battles, and allow others to do so as well. Important in this, is the consideration of consequences.

I will remain in healthy discernment. And, because I know that I’m not above ‘crossing the line’ into righteous judgement myself, I will vigilantly watch my own tendency to do so. Our opinions do not define us. Sometimes it feels like we are being personally attacked when they are challenged. We become identified with them. Righteous judgement is an oh soooo tempting antidote when that happens. But, I’ll say it again, it does nothing to bring peace to the world. And, peace is where my greatest allegiance lies.