The public discussion on how to deal with “anti-vaccines” is likely to continue for a long time. Considering this, it might be important to mention something which is widely ignored: the right and freedom of a person to be anxious, even if this anxiety seems irrational to the surrounding.
We all carry within us anxieties. Some are under our control, and some leave us defenseless; Some we inherit from our parents or in our homes where we grew up. Some have solid rational ground, and some cannot be justified, not even to ourselves. Yet, the anxiety is present in us.
In its basic meaning anxiety is “a psychological state in which a person feels fear, physical and mental restlessness due to a thought that something bad is about to happen. Anxious thoughts may be both real or imaginary and may appear consciously as well as unconsciously.”
Often the common public response to expressions of anxiety focuses on its rational justification. Therefore, there is a widespread tendency to respond to anxiety with “words of wisdom.” Thus, we tend to be very strict in our demand for a rational foundation to other people’s anxiety. When this expectation is not fulfilled many are easy to criticize. As if we were saying: “don’t you understand in your common sense that your anxiety is unfounded?”
Indeed, this duality which characterizes our different approach to our own anxiety vs. other people anxiety may provide with some insights regarding the escalation in tone and emotions related to COVID vaccination.
As can be seen, at present, the media and public discourse often sees those who are not willing to get vaccinated as alienated from science, prone to conspiratorial manipulations, ignorant, idolatrous, or just egoists who do not care about others.
But this position ignores the existence of anxiety. Moreover, it fails to address it appropriately.
Indeed, it is possible that the arguments of those who refuse the vaccine are not scientifically based. It is also possible that the sources of information on which they rely on are shaky and unconvincing.
However, it is important that we understand that this is not necessarily the real matter at hand. After all, at the end of the day the real difficulty of the vaccine opponent does not lie in complex excel spreadsheets that analyze statistical and epidemiological data (which in any case are often beyond our comprehension). The difficulty is not in the mind, but in the heart. In the existence of anxiety, in low or high intensity. And as such, a cold rational argument may not be useful.
To understand this, think about this example: Have you ever tried to persuade an anxious passenger to board a plane based on the argument that his anxiety is completely irrational (considering that statistically the chance of being killed on the way to the airport is much greater than the chance that his plane will crash)? Did you succeed?
It is a fact that a very significant portion of human psychology involves with anxiety. But for some reason, the public discussion about vaccinations tend to ignore it.
Condemnation, exclusions, and sanctions against those who refuse to be vaccinated are not necessarily an effective tool as they do not communicate well with anxiety. Moreover, it is probably also not the right moral approach.
Dotan Rousso has a Ph.D. in Law. He currently teaches philosophy at SAIT.