by Don Laird, contributing writer
Polarization in our country is increasing. We are all frustrated, at times angry, with family, co-workers, neighbors, life-long friends, and complete strangers over masking and vaccines. This discord is quickly dividing our nation into distinct camps where there is no longer civil discourse.
Let’s be clear, getting vaccinated or wearing a mask is not a political statement and it should not be espoused as such by any group or individual. We are amid a public health crisis. This is not debatable. Much of the fear we are experiencing right now is preventable. Instead of the continued squabbling, we should be coming together to fight the real enemy which is this virus.
We are all tired of masking; we are all frustrated with the length of time it is taking to emerge from this pandemic; we are all tired of being afraid. It is taking a toll on us psychologically speaking, but you know what isn’t tired yet? Covid-19. It goes on as we separate ourselves into political tribalism. The mental health crisis, this perfect storm that is now brewing, is one that we are going to be dealing with for years and decades to come.
Let’s understand how people respond to stages in a disaster, in this case, a global pandemic. Everyone is built differently. Everyone has their own perspective, but there are shared and common grounds for our experiences. There is research, and evidence, that defines the stages of stress on communities from disasters.
During or right after a disaster communities tend to pull together. People support each other and are generally kind as they create a sense of community, a feeling of togetherness. Unfortunately, that spirit wears thin as stress and frustration builds. We get tired and cynical. That’s when we hit a disillusionment stage. We begin to lose our optimism and trust and start to have negative reactions to almost everything we hear and see. That’s about where we stand now as a society. People are exhausted of this and they’re taking great risks with their lives and the lives of others. They’d rather risk getting sick then getting vaccinated or wearing a mask or both. People have stopped listening to the experts and they are no longer following the science. This stage could last for more than a year once the pandemic is under control. And we’re nowhere close to that currently.
So how do we build bridges instead of burning them? Here are some concrete steps to help people acknowledge how they feel and steps to communicate with people they may strongly disagree with in a way that’s more positive and civil.
Set boundaries and ground rules. This is a discussion about facts, not opinions. We are here to understand and explain our views, not to change the other person’s mind. Let’s each try to speak for ourselves and not try to speak for any outside group. Can we avoid talking points and express our own thoughts and feelings?
The basic rules of kindness still apply. Take your turn. Don’t interrupt. Listen. Be respectful – that means no eye-rolling, sighs or laughter when someone is speaking.
An argument is a failed discussion. Read that again.
Always bring your best self into the conversation, and as writer Rod Serling observed, “For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized.”
Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor with 20 years of experience providing psychotherapy and counseling to adults, teens and couples who are struggling with a wide range of mental health and life issues. Don is a writer and adjunct professor who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in professional counseling and psychology at Carlow University. Additionally, he facilitates workshops and classes in dreams, creativity, self growth, and stress reduction.