No U in polarization

By November 22, 2021July 3rd, 2022Uncategorized

Thinking about vaccine polarization

Polarization is a big problem in our society. Getting vaccinated or not is the polarization topic I would like to discuss. Full disclosure – I’m pro vaccines. I took courses in biology and chemistry at university and have followed some of the research on the covid vaccine. I am NOT a doctor, nor am I an expert. The vaccination debate affected me personally because some people important to me are vaccine hesitant.  

One friend (who gave me permission to write about this) is someone I admire as being a very thoughtful person. How could they be so “ill-informed” shall we say, as not wanting to get vaccinated as soon as possible? How could he be so – <put in your reactive wording here> around vaccinations?

Listening to the “other side” 

Recognizing that I was pretty reactive about this, I got curious about where my friend was coming from. Some time ago, I wrote a piece about having a good emotional connection. A connection that was less reactive and more interested in how the other person thought about a topic. We had a phone call, and I asked him how he thought about his decision. His experiences with the medical establishment were not good. His description of the history with the medical system clarified that his choice about vaccinations was not a flippant decision.

He recognizes that he has made a choice. He is not irresponsible. He is careful about social distancing, his social bubble and wearing a mask. I live far enough away that he won’t be coming to visit me soon. So why would I get so reactive?

Your opinion or my anxiety

As I reflected on our discussion and my reactions, I realized several things. First, and most important, was just how reactive I was. His opinions and actions were threatening to me. I realized that my anxiety about getting covid was the source of my reactivity. I could layer on rational things like “objective thinking”, “cost to the medical system”, “social responsibility”, “medical science”, “public good”, on top of my subjectivity, but the root of my polarization was my anxiety. He thought and acted differently than me, and I perceived this as a threat. I use perceived because it was not a genuine threat to me. I perceived it was a threat because of my level of anxiousness about getting covid. Factually, he was a zero threat to me. His lifestyle of healthy living and social distancing was a reduced threat to me. My anxiousness was worse for my health than his behaviour hundreds of miles away.  

Subjectivity vs objectivity 

What I noticed is that my anxiety was increasing my subjective thinking on this topic. One aspect of recognizing and managing my subjectivity is that I’m less likely to try to change my friend’s thinking, just so I feel better. Bowen wrote that an individual’s level of differentiation will affect their amount of subjective thinking versus objective thinking. Higher levels of anxiety will cause this to happen as well. My polarization created a “fiction” based on anxiety and not “fact” based on objective thinking. 

We don’t agree, but we are connected

After some great conversations, we have a better understanding of how each of us thinks. We have expressed our concern for the well-being of each other. I’ve learned things I wouldn’t have taken the time to read about. Most important for me is that I’ve learned about my emotional process and how to manage my anxiety on this topic. Guess what – that helps my immune system! Who thought talking to “the other side” could be so healthy.  

There is one I and no U in polarized

I invite you to think about a topic that stirs up your reactivity. What are you worked up about? What threatens you? Vertebrates have five main areas of reactivity – feed, friend, fight, flight and freeze. These are the outcome of a threat or an opportunity. I’ll assume your reactivity is from a threat. Is this a genuine threat – one where there is a direct linkage to you? Not some, maybe someday under certain circumstances, perceived threat. Can you get curious about YOU and your thinking? How much are you assuming? How much is just your opinion versus fact? Can you be curious about listening to the other opinions so that YOU can learn? Seek to understand, not to change. 

I realize that managing my reactivity is healthier for me and my relationships. I work to focus on my functioning despite my feelings, and that is a big enough project.

Learn more about Bowen Theory from this video series with Dr. Bowen

See our other resources here.

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