It's OK to Disagree

Mark Twain is credited with saying “it is easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled”. People are generally predisposed to conformity. It’s far easier to believe what everyone believes. One rationale for this is that if enough people believe it then it must be true. But what about when what we want to believe isn’t true? Without dismissing another person’s ideas as unreliable simply because they aren’t consistent with our own beliefs, what processes do we follow to vet out the valid from the noise? How susceptible are we to confirmation bias on a daily basis? Is it possible that dissenting voices are always wrong?

I have strong opinions about how we as a nation and as a State are handling the current crisis. I think that in some aspects we are doing the right thing. I think far more often however we are suffering horrible decisions out of a collective fear. I think that the facts don’t align with the decisions we’re being forced to live with. I’m confident that the majority will read those last two lines and rationalize that I’m one of those callous people who’s willing to risk the health and safety of others by disagreeing with the experts. That could not be less true. I think that there are enough people willing to demonize anyone who doesn’t wear a mask or who wants to get back to work, or get the kids back to school, that for most it’s easier to “go along to get along”. It doesn’t need to make sense. I think that science and data are relied upon selectively. I think we are not looking broadly enough at the harm some of our policy decisions are causing.

Am I suggesting that we ignore the current virus and immediately get back to “normal”? No. I think our seniors and those who are immunocompromised deserve to be protected. I believe there is a way to do just that without destroying so many lives with the unintended consequences of our current policies. How many people can’t feed their families right now? How many suicides will we see because of job loss, family stress and a lack of mental health services? How many kids relied on school for some stability in their lives? How many people are not receiving treatment for chronic illnesses and will consequently either die or be very ill? How many cases of domestic violence will take place because of an increase in family stress due to unemployment or food insecurity? How many people will die because they were afraid to go to the hospital? How many families will not recover from this? I can cite evidence of each of these things happening in recent weeks. These are real too. These are life changing, deadly consequences not of the virus but of our reaction to it.

Yes, COVID deaths are real too. I’ve seen enough severe cases coming from nursing homes in recent weeks to know that this is in fact a serious virus. Every year however there is a serious virus that runs through these same populations. Why don’t we take these precautions every year? If last year the flu killed over 60,000 Americans, why don’t we require masks and distancing all flu season whenever seniors are present? How are casinos and shopping malls allowed to be open ever? Put this in perspective – we’ve closed schools and camps and any group activities undertaken by the segment of the population least likely to have any symptoms from this virus, presumably to protect the elderly and immunocompromised with whom these kids interact. How will we ever get to a level of community immunity if we lock up all of the healthy people and prevent them from being exposed and developing antibodies? Is there not some other way whereby people go about their lives and we make accommodations for those who are actually at risk? If my grandparents were alive and got to choose between their kids losing their jobs and ability to take care of themselves or taking responsibility for self-isolating, I’m guessing they’d manage themselves in the house for a while. “But what if they have to go out to get food?” Right, I agree. Taking care of our seniors requires some societal effort and planning. What if, instead of shutting down the country we kept everyone working, and took some of those trillions of dollars in relief and put them toward programs to support our seniors. More food delivery services. More telemedicine. More social outreach.

My assertion is simply that there is some middle ground. This does not have to be an all or nothing undertaking. Not wanting to wear a mask or keep restaurants empty should not earn someone the scorn of those who are convinced these are the right things to do any more than wanting to encourage social distancing and additional precautions around seniors and nursing homes should mean one is being paranoid and overreacting.

My request is that people simply make an effort to think critically about this crisis. There are experts on all sides of the current pandemic discussion. What are the risks and benefits to wearing a cloth mask in public? What science and data supports your decision to wear or not wear it? Should we be sprinting toward mass exposure to this virus in order to better protect our seniors? Where have examples of this approach been successful or unsuccessful? I want to know if the risk of having a group on a beach or in a park outweighs the benefits of those groups being in the sunshine and fresh air. What data supports opening or closing public spaces? Why are schools closed? Are we worried about the kids or the parents and teachers? Maybe both? Is this level of concern and action justified in the face of significant evidence of serious unintended consequences to families? Is it possible that we’re trading some lives for other lives?

I want our seniors and the most vulnerable among us to be protected and healthy. I want our kids to be happy and healthy too. I want families to be able to support themselves. I want to be able to buy chicken and toilet paper when I need it. I want to be free to enjoy the outdoors. I want us to get over the fear and anger that has taken over our every public interaction. I want our healthcare system to successfully manage through this virus. I believe all of these are achievable and none are mutually exclusive. Maybe you think differently and that’s ok. The important thing here is that you’re willing to think about it.

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