Over the last month or so, there has been a growing list of conspiracy theories circling the internet: Obama funded a Wuhan chemical lab to start a bio-war, Bill Gates is behind the spread of COVID-19 so he can make billions off vaccines, and COVID-19 isn’t real.
This virus has become politicized, and like anything that is politicized, it’s become divisive. Protests are increasing in the U.S. and Canada, and just a few days ago thousands of people in Michigan protested against shelter-in-place. People were wearing hazmat suits and masks despite protesting against a virus they don’t believe in, and the irony is at the very least giggle worthy. And while many people (and news outlets) are currently labeling these people insane or uneducated, I know that’s probably not true. What I do know though, is there is a problematic lack of empathy.
I have empathy for the nurses and hospital staff, and can’t imagine how awful it must be to work an excruciating and exhausting 16-hour shift, only to be greeted by protesters outside.
I have empathy for the protesters*, many of whom are protesting out of fear and anger for the inability to provide for their families. Others are experiencing what it’s like to have the government control your body, and have their privileges challenged for the very first time.
I have empathy for the people who believe conspiracy theories. Many feel disenfranchised, and believe neither the government nor corporations provide even a sprinkle of truth.
I have empathy for those who hate conspiracy theories, and think that by spreading them, it discounts the reality that the sick and their loved ones are facing.
We collectively now live in a place of uncertainty, and we’re all doing what we think is best to make sense of our experiences. History has proven to us that the need to blame someone, something, only increases in moments of global chaos.
My concern is how divisive these conversations have been, and I hope we allow more room for the grey areas in these complicated matters—creating room to explore very valid concerns.
I can believe COVID-19 to be a real threat, while also questioning the intent of men in power, even ones who are deemed humanitarians. I can fear for the safety of those most vulnerable in our communities, while also believing that pharmaceutical companies, and even most governments, don’t care about the wellbeing of its people.
Do I believe there to be some truth in some of the conspiracy theories out there? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that people are losing their jobs, their lives, and our collective mental and physical health are under attack.
My ask is that we aren’t forced to pick one side, that we can live in the grey. I hope we come together and choose empathy. Speak from a kinder place, especially when we disagree.
So in the effort to have a *respectful* conversation, I’d love to know your thoughts.
What do you think about COVID-19 conspiracy theories?
Yesterday, I wrote a post about empathy in the context of the recent protests, and incorrectly I made it sound as though I was asking for empathy towards protesters. That was not my intention whatsoever, and I want to start off by apologizing to anyone who was potentially triggered. My intention was to suggest empathy to our global collective, not towards these people, not especially to those protesting because they want a haircut or ice cream. My sincerest apologies that my caption wasn’t worded in the way I meant it.
Privilege is a huge part of this conversation, and one I failed to properly acknowledge yesterday. White people can take a stand with assault riffles while covering their faces, while people of color need to ensure they *peacefully* protest to protect their own lives.
I’d like to think that one day those protesting will wake up to their whiteness and privilege. That they’ll see how ironic their “My body, my choice” signs are, as they continue to stand behind dangerous pro-life policies, while upholding the patriarchy’s control over women’s bodies. Protesters who are demanding higher stimulus checks maybe one day will learn to not vote to have welfare abolished. People against government controlling their lives, will acknowledge how millions of people of color are controlled by the government. Folks for the first time, are experiencing a reality that is the reality for most Americans.
Empathy isn’t the solution in this case, but rather a need for a larger conversation around privilege.
My hope is that the people remember these sentiments, these feelings, these fears that so many Americans feel day after day, year after year, decade after decade.
That they can learn to extend empathy.
What I realized yesterday, is that my own privilege guided my thoughts on empathy. As one of our writer’s @juliachildsheyl so beautifully communicated in her comment on the post yesterday, “Perhaps the oppressor doesn’t deserve our empathy.”
LET'S TALK: what do you think about COVID-19 conspiracy theories?
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
AMEN! 🙏🏻 ALL of this, Alex. I feel every bit of what you wrote.
I’m a nurse and I can say that the protests are infuriating to me. I understand what you mean about having empathy for all sides, but when you’re working so tirelessly it’s hard to defend something that feels like it should be obvious.
As a scientist, I’m so frustrated by the politicization and conspiracy theories because it feels like we aren’t placing sufficient weight on facts and experts. I’ve heard that we’re in the “death of experts” era, where people feel like the resources and opinions they can access online outweigh the experienced, nuanced and data-driven facts presented by consulting scientists and leaders. It just seems so crazy and irresponsible to me.
I’m all for empathy (Brené brown is bae, after all) but this conversation becomes dangerous when we consider who we’re facing. A lot of the anger folks who are facing the government controlling their bodies for the first time, are also the folks voting in pro-life politicians. And while I don’t think it’s an “eye for an eye,” I do believe that science and truth must prevail, caring must prevail. Tbh I’m sick of trying to see the rights side in all this, and wish that everyone would be more empathetic to those of less privilege because I feel almost certain that those protesting aren’t asking themselves if they’re being empathetic of others at this time. It feels fuelled by individualism and prioritizing personal rights in freedom, instead of that of the collective.
I fully agree with you and actually added an editor’s note for this exact reason. I do have empathy with anyone who protested out of fear and anger for the inability to provide for their families, but I don’t, and I’m certainly not asking anyone to have empathy with, people who are protesting to have the ability to get their haircuts. Also, one HUGE part I missed in this piece is that some people are protesting with assault riffles. And that’s an important part of privilege to consider and acknowledge. White people can take a stand with guns while covering their faces, while brown and black folks need to ensure they *peacefully* protest to protect their own lives, and even that sometimes isn’t enough. Privilege is a huge part of this conversation, and one I failed to acknowledge properly in this post.
I’m a server that’s out of a job so I understand the frustration of the shelter-in-place. That being said, I think it’s crazy how most of the people protesting right now (from what I’ve seen) talk down on people who protest topics like racism, police brutality, climate change, and reproductive rights. It’s so infuriating because they would rather get a haircut and “be free” than stay home for a bit to decrease deaths and save lives. It’s been difficult for me to have empathy for them because they’re just putting everyone at risk and could possibly extend the shelter-in-place order.
I am here for all of it. I believe there is a virus AND I believe there is a lot going on behind the scenes (as always). Truthfully? We will never have all of the answers but I do believe that we can’t attach ourselves to one specific view point – remaining curious will allow us to step into a deeper sense of empathy. Personally, I work in a broken system that has manufactured the birth process so significantly that we have now view birth as a medical experience that is sometimes natural. It is a system that I am continuously fighting to educate people on and it has opened my eyes to a lot around not always trusting the people that “know best”. We have to really sit with what’s real and true for us and be compassionate to others that don’t feel the same way. I would hate to wake up at the end of this and regret not remaining curious to the information outside of mainstream media which has ABSOLUTELY lead us down dangerous paths of thinking before.
So much compassion to everyone and their opinions and lived experiences. Main point for me? Remain curious and don’t get too attached to one way of though.
I appreciate the reason why you were nervous for this post, but I think that having discussions like this are critical right now! I’m surprised I’m not seeing them more. We need to be able to express our concerns and discuss them with each other! That is how we maintain empathy, hearing individual voices speaking calmly and authentically. To answer the question, the conspiracy theories are an absolutely a waste of time! In my opinion, conspiracies dehumanize reality. They create some fanciful story which humans find intriguing because its dramatic and seems unbelievable, but really just tears humanity further a part. They generate fear and to me fear is the foundation of hate and violence. Covid-19 is real! It is killing people all over the world right now in essentially every country. This is what we should be concerned about right now, not some made up stories. We should be worrying about how humans on a global scale can come together, trust the information we are receiving from the experts and do the best we can to support and help each other. Shouting from the steps of a government building demanding that the reality of our entire planet is false…..I honestly cant even arrive in that place. Americans needs to learn to put individual fears and selfishness aside and begin to see our country and this world as a collective unit. That is empathy.
First of all, I loooove this & thank you for holding space for it. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be in the hospitals dealing with these cases right now. I also can only imagine how difficult it is to be suddenly homeschooling your kids while working still, which I know a lot of my friends are now doing. With that said, I think each community is experiencing it different based on the area they’re in and how close to the ‘hot spots’ you are, so I try to keep that in mind as, for example, I’m near Seattle but I’m three counties away from there…
Lastly, I feel like it would be fantastic to base our collective and individual decisions on science and data, however without consistent testing or testing a large sampling in each area (say, 5,000 ppl or something?) to determine who has it, who has had it and recovered from it and who doesn’t fall onto either of those categories I don’t see how there’s enough data (per area/ county? ) to accurately say where things are at. I personally have been abiding by our stay at home order since early March, but I’m beginning to get frustrated that there isn’t better sources of clear data.
Thank you again for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
P.S. The above is why I think conspiracy theories, in this situation especially, are prevalent. Everyone is looking through a different lens and has different things that trigger their nervous system to activate telling them they are in danger… this is a trauma response and we are getting an opportunity to be better, as a society, at reinventing how we support one another. <3
YES. All of this! We’re all having different experiences based on where we live– one of the many reasons why we’re each looking through a different lens. An important thing for us all to consider.
I totally agree that as a society we need to be more empathetic, but at this moment I feel it’s a privilege to be able to say “feel empathy for these protestors.” So many people have family members/loved one who have died, are currently sick, are immunocompromised, are frontline workers, or essential workers. It feels wrong to tell them to be empathetic when protestors are erasing their loses and pain. It also feels wrong when people have shown up with guns and have caused gridlocks that have blocked access to hospitals. Meanwhile Indigenous people and POC who are protesting to protect their sacred land and lives are shot with rubber bullets, tear gassed, are confronted by police in riot gear, etc. What protesters and conspiracy theorists are doing right now is not victimless. Truly the people who must learn empathy are those out protesting.
I absolutely agree and left an editor’s note to clarify my stance on this. I’m definitely not asking for more empathy from people who are already so underrepresented. A HUGE part of this conversation has to do with privilege and I absolutely failed to properly acknowledge that, and I’m in the process of writing another IG post to clarify this. Thank you for your comment!
I agree with you 💯! You pointing out that we don’t have to choose a side actually made me feel so much better. Although I may agree with some of the points conspiracy theorists make, their often aggressive or offensive way of making their point makes me feel like I’m against them. You pointing out that it’s OK to be gray feels like a weight lifted off my shoulder. Thank you for another great piece!
so poignant + your awareness provides a brilliant + wide enough perspective for most everyone to fit in + feel heard + maybe even shimmy their own paradigms for a moment. well said.
I think it is what it is — if it’s intentional, it back fired — I thought about it for awhile, but I thought maybe global warming got so out of control they had to do something to shut the world off— whatever if it is- I hope people won’t forget this time – how slow feels, how family feels, how connection feels — how feeling feels — I think people can guess all day long WHY – but the reality of it is, we’ll probably never know. People are dying, and that’s a grave cost for allowing healthy people to experience life differently — but it’s happening, and I hope we make the most of what we can.
As someone who tries to doll out empathy as liberally as possible, I struggle to do so with people who vehemently question the mere existence of something which so many people are objectively suffering from (and dying of). It’s first time in my life I’ve identified with the ills of “privilege” – imagining a healthy, remotely employed person safe and tucked away in their insulated tenth story apartment, Tweeting about the “fake news virus,” while someone else’s mother, best friend, parter or child drowns in their own lungs on a hospital cot, scared and alone.