Not so long ago, I was in a place I like to be, with people I know well and admire. There came a point where I began to rant about folks who refused to be vaccinated. I was pretty plain about how I felt when it came to anti-vaxxers. I suddenly realized I was being met with polite but definitely awkward silence.
It was a big oops as I quickly recalled snippets of previous conversations with these people and connected with the reality that two of those I was now talking to quite likely had not been vaccinated for COVID-19 and probably had no intention of doing so. I quickly changed the subject but things were a little cool for a while after that.
Reflecting on that episode, I later concluded that I was so wrapped up in my belief that the only way to control the COVID-19 virus and to get us out of the entrails of this pandemic (a belief I must say, I still hold), that I was lecturing instead of explaining and making matters worse rather than better.
More recently, I have seen firsthand the strain on people who have different and conflicting views on COVID-19 vaccinations and, for that matter, on masking and social distancing. In some cases it has split families, certainly family occasions. And it has affected friendships.
For most anti-vaxxers I think the issue may be as much about resentment and frustration over the realities of such a long stretch of pandemic restrictions and government control as it is about actually getting vaccinated. After all, most of us in this world have had previous vaccinations for one thing or another.
Of course, we can’t just give in to the anti-vaxxers, shrug our shoulders and say it’s okay, just do your thing. Individual rights can never trump collective rights especially in matters of life and death.
But what we all need to recognize is the insidious effect that this prolonged pandemic has had on our temperament and our behaviour. Whether we recognize it or not, and whatever side we may be on in relation to COVID vaccinations, most of us are not the same people we were before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
We are less patient. We are far more judgemental. We are harder on politicians and on people who have a different viewpoint than we do and on those who urge or require us to do things we do not want to do. Much of this boils over into a latent anger that fuels a change in character and behaviour.
Jen Gerson, a co-founder and writer for a somewhat provocative publication called ‘The Line’ (@the_line.ca) puts much of this down to a post-pandemic mental health crisis that most people do not recognize. She says, “I think we are in the middle of the mental health pandemic right now. I think we are in it so deep that we can’t see it anymore.”
She goes on to suggest that during the pandemic, signs of mental illness were not as much the typical ones such as depression, anxiety or alcoholism but rather more a matter of a distinct change in behaviour. She says this:
“Look around: are people acting normal lately? Think of the protests we saw during the election, or the anti-vaccine marches through our downtown cores. Think of the mom wearing two masks who screamed because your kid got too close on the playground – was that rational, grounded, sane behaviour?”
And then she asks, “However, did we go from banging pots for health-care workers to blocking the exits of hospitals over the course of 18 months?… Something is happening to a lot of people, and you see it in COVID deniers and also in those who have made a religion out of the dangers of the disease.”
All of this makes me think that for our long-term wellbeing we need to cool our jets a little. Not compromise on what needs to be done to keep us safe until this pandemic is completely behind us. Certainly not. But perhaps we need to be a little more understanding and, yes, tolerant of those on both sides of the equation who take strong positions different than our own.
Political agendas aside, governments in Canada at all levels are doing their best to control this COVID-19 pandemic and to get us through it and back to a more normal standard of living. Have they made mistakes? Of course they have. But on balance, this country has done well under difficult circumstances. In Ontario, for example, we are now at a place where our daily incidents of COVID-19 infections during this fourth wave are lower than almost all of the provinces on a per capita basis. That is progress.
There are those who will always be upset with the restrictions and requirements that have been put in place by government to control and eventually eliminate the COVID-19 virus along with its variants. Conversely, there will always be those who will believe that governments have not done enough.
It is important, however, that we stay the course. We must recognize the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the mental health of many people and hence their behaviour. At the same time, it is important to do what needs to be done to control and eradicate this virulent virus, just as polio and smallpox have been virtually eliminated through vaccinations. By definition that means not everyone will be happy.
Like many of you, I have seen the anger and divisiveness this pandemic has caused, an ailment perhaps as serious and potentially more permanent than the virus itself. Conspiracy theories and anti-vax protests have not helped. Nor have overly rigid approaches to pandemic restrictions.
In my view, if we want to get through this pandemic without long-term damage to our basic characteristics as Canadians, we need to find a balance and we need to control the rhetoric and, yes, we need to lighten up a little!
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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