Love and kindness

It’s only Tuesday morning and already we are having a week.

Amelie was off school with a cold yesterday – the kind of minor sniffle that, pre-March 2020, you wouldn’t even have thought about before packing your kid off to school. It’s now the end of 2021 though, and as we all know, life is different now. So we kept Amelie home from school and hanging out with me and Hayden, complete with the energy of a well child but the snot of a sick child.

I wasn’t meant to be working yesterday (it was my birthday!) but because my day was already disrupted, I chose to get some work in, in the hopes of enjoying some time off later this week instead. That meant, of course, that I was hanging around my computer and my phone while also trying to parent a sick child…and any parent who’s been in that position knows all too well how easy it is to just keep picking up your phone or checking the news or social media on your laptop in a bid to connect with the outside world from where you are, trapped in an inside world, trying to entertain someone while not dying of boredom yourself, and even trying to be a little bit productive (or at least look a little bit productive as you LARP your work).

And unfortunately for me, I am a bit of a news junkie, especially during a pandemic as it turns out. And yesterday there was news. It was the last day that educators could get their first Covid-19 vaccine dose before they were no longer allowed on campus. As of today, any educator or anyone who works in an education facility must have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to continue physically attending their workplace. By 1 January, they have to have had two doses and be fully vaccinated.

There was a small protest opposite one of our schools, and the local community pages on Facebook were blowing up with people arguing about whether this is an acceptable restriction to put on educators or not. I read too many comments (one would have been too many) and spent far too much of my day with a sick feeling in my stomach. This morning I deactivated my Facebook account – a step which really, I should have done yesterday – and instantly felt better, but obviously, some of the comments I read have stayed with me.

Before I work through my thoughts, I think it’s important to acknowledge that I live in a wonderful community. People are, for the most part, very kind and generous up here, particularly on the individual level. The pandemic is bringing out the worst in a lot of people, just as it is everywhere, but I don’t think anybody would say half the things they say on social media to the face of someone else who lives here. On social media, however, and when thinking about groups of people in the aggregate, rather than the individuals and their stories who make up those groups, it gets horrible, and it is very hard to handle. You see this everywhere, all the time. The one that’s always got me is the vitriolic way people in New Zealand will talk about ‘cyclists’ and joke about running them down. They’re not ‘cyclists’ out to get you – they’re people, trying to get around. I used to get so scared riding my bike on the road after any bad bout of that (it happens regularly, usually when someone proposes putting some money into cycling facilities). Anyway, that is now how people are talking about ‘the government’ (usually extended to include public servants) and whichever other groups they have a bugbear with.

In yesterday’s arguments, one commenter seems to have decided to address what she clearly found an unpleasant situation by wishing ‘love and kindness’ to all those who commented with a point of view different to hers. This is one way of going about it I suppose – my preferred option is to ignore and not engage on social media, but she also attended the protest so maybe she just feels more strongly than me right now. Those words kind of stuck with me and bothered me, though, and after working through it a bit I think I know why.

It is not a loving or kind act to refuse to have a safe, effective vaccine that will help keep others safe.

Words are meaningless, whether spoken or written down. Your actions are what matter. If you, as an educator, will not have a vaccine that has been administered to literally billions of people worldwide, and has been proven to be both safe and effective, to help protect children in your care (who may not be old enough to have the vaccine yet) and their families (who may be vulnerable in other ways), then you are not acting with kindness or love. You’re also not showing the critical thinking skills or (actual, proper, university-level) research skills that you should have available to you as an educator. And therefore, maybe teaching children is not the right profession for you after all.

This applies more widely than just to this situation, of course. After years of chronic illness, I can tell you what love and kindness looks like, and what it doesn’t. Some examples:

  1. My mother, before I was diagnosed but when I was a very sick university student, offering to pay for expensive private testing for me without even a moment’s hesitation.
  2. My GP in the UK, who was usually quite short and grumpy, very harried, and generally rather intimidating to me, seeing how ill and confused and scared I was after some inconclusive, terrifying test results, keeping me in her office while she picked up her phone and literally yelled at various doctors at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital until she had got some answers for me.
  3. Hayden’s workmate and friend, who upon hearing I was sick, bought me two books about using my mind to heal my body. The books were total woo-woo, but the act of buying something for somebody he hardly knew, in the hope they might help, was a kind and loving one.
  4. My specialist here in NZ, who came to understand me as someone with a keen mind and a penchant for research, who would share research papers relevant to my illness with me.
  5. Hayden, who has given up and will be giving up a lot of fun things over the last couple of years and into the indeterminate future, because he sees keeping me safe as more important.
  6. Every person in this country who is going through lockdowns, is wearing a mask, getting their vaccines, washing their hands, staying home if they’re sick, and getting Covid tests just in case.

Love and kindness is not:

  1. Dismissing someone’s concerns by saying you’re sure they’ll be fine, or wishing them ‘thoughts and prayers’ or suggesting that cutting out gluten or dairy or thinking positive might help (a little tip for anyone tempted to do this: if you’re talking to a person with a chronic illness, they’ve almost certainly tried every dietary or lifestyle change there is. Sometimes bodies don’t make sense, and giving unsolicited health information when you don’t know or understand the full picture is a very destructive act).
  2. Preying on people’s anxieties and fears and using them to enrich yourself.
  3. ‘Both-siding’ an argument when one side is wrong (whether that’s scientifically, or morally, or ethically wrong).
  4. Acting against public health advice, or allowing others to do so at your behest, because you want yourself or them to feel more comfortable.
  5. And obviously, it is not expecting to be able to exercise your rights without also acknowledging and responding to your responsibilities, particularly in a time of global pandemic, when everything is different.

If our experience here aligns with what we can see has happened overseas, this might all be a bit of a storm in a teacup, and not that many people will actually leave their jobs. They’ll get the vaccine, possibly quietly, and nothing will happen, except that we’ll all just be that little bit safer. Some will quit, of course, and that’s their choice. Obviously, I believe everyone who can (and there are very few people who legitimately cannot) should get the vaccine, but if there are those who are so opposed they’re prepared to give up their careers over this point, then I’m not going to argue with them. It’s sad, for sure, but at the end of the day, public health comes first (because we are in a pandemic. This is not a normal, everyday situation).

But supporting them in their (unfounded, unscientific, and often rather upsetting) views is not an act of love or kindness. No matter how many times you say those words.

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