communication, healthcare, LDS, mental health

“My way or the highway”…

Picture it– a Saturday morning in early July 2006. The doorbell rang. Our mailman, Steve, who knew all of the best gossip on Fort Belvoir, was at the door with a bunch of packages. They were from Bill’s ex wife and sent “restricted delivery”, so Bill had to sign for them personally. In the boxes were a bunch of personal effects that Bill had left behind when he and Ex got divorced in 2000. She had written a letter, explaining that she had expected him to “retrieve” his stuff, but he never had. So she was sending the stuff back to him, along with an itemized list of the contents.

She also included adoption papers for Bill’s daughters, along with an invitation to sign them so her third husband, #3, could officially claim Bill’s daughters as his own. And there were also photocopied letters the girls supposedly wrote, demanding that Bill give permission for them to be adopted by #3. I remember quite distinctly that younger daughter’s letter was especially cold, while older daughter’s was a bit kinder. However, she did include the line, “I’ll never talk to you again” as an ultimatum. As in, “If you don’t let #3 adopt me, I’ll never talk to you again. It’s my way or the highway.”

Bear in mind, Bill had not been allowed a chance to speak to his daughters. Ex refused to let him have any contact with them and had them so mindfucked that they couldn’t think straight. Years later, it turned out that the girls had their names legally changed when they were both 18. Younger daughter said she’d been under a lot of pressure, both to write the letter (which Ex basically dictated to her), and to have her last name changed. But she also realized that she would be changing her name anyway, once she got married. Sure enough, younger daughter did get married and changed her name again. She now freely communicates with Bill– her REAL dad– who is a wonderful person. And it’s been beautiful for both of them. Younger daughter certainly doesn’t consider #3 to be her father and doesn’t really speak to him nowadays.

Older daughter has been as good as her word. She hasn’t spoken to Bill, and remains trapped in her mother’s toxic home. She’ll be 30 years old soon, and younger daughter has said that Ex regularly threatens and demeans her. Meanwhile, life has gone on, and for us, it’s mainly been worth living. Bill would love to have his older daughter in his life again, but she’s made a choice. I hope the “my way or the highway” attitude is worth it to her and brings her much joy… but somehow, I doubt it does. When Bill’s father died in November 2020, older daughter wasn’t welcome at the funeral, even though she had reportedly wanted to attend. Sadly, thanks to COVID-19, Bill wasn’t able to attend, either.

I have shared this story more than a couple of times over the years. I usually share it when I write about parental alienation syndrome or people who have decided to leave Mormonism and get shunned by their families. Since PAS and leaving Mormonism are both factors in our story, it makes sense that I’d share this sad anecdote when I write about those subjects. Today, I’m sharing it for another reason.

This morning, I read an article in The Washington Post about how to have conversations with people about COVID-19 vaccinations. I almost didn’t read the article because, frankly, I’m pretty frustrated by the subject. I live in a place where I can’t yet get a vaccine, even though I’m willing to get one. I see all of my American friends getting their shots, but I’m still sitting here with my thumb up my ass. I’m bored, depressed, and super sick of this lifestyle, especially since I can’t travel, but my husband keeps having to go places for work. It sucks, and I’m so tired of it. I need a new subject to focus on, so my attitude doesn’t completely go down the crapper.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to read what the writer, Allyson Chiu, wrote about talking to people who can’t agree about the vaccines. I thought her advice was very sensible. Like me, she realizes that shaming, threatening, scolding, and lecturing aren’t very effective when it comes to changing hearts and minds about vaccinations. I’ve mentioned this more than a couple of times. When you come at a person with aggression, their instinct will naturally be to defend themselves. When a person is focused on defending themselves, they won’t be listening to what you have to say. You might as well save your breath.

Chiu also recommended positive ways of encouraging people to get the vaccine. Instead of insulting them or making assumptions about the person’s reasoning for not cooperating, she suggests asking people what would make them more willing to consider getting the shot(s). She emphasized being caring and concerned about the person’s welfare, rather than issuing stern ultimatums. Above all, she emphasizes maintaining basic respect with a mind toward preserving the relationship.

I looked at the responses left on the actual article, rather than Facebook. I’ve found that people who take the time to respond on a newspaper article itself, usually tend to be more thoughtful and appropriate in their comments. Also, the people who comment on the actual paper usually have taken the time to read the article rather than just responding to the headline.

As I read the comments about the COVID-19 vaccine controversy, I got a strong sense of deja vu. Only, the comments reminded me of ones heard from frustrated and angry parents when a child makes a decision with which the parent disagrees. For instance, when people raise their children in Mormonism, and the family members actually believe in the church doctrine and live by its principles, they tend to be very intolerant of opposing views. They issue ultimatums to the wayward family members, threatening to cut them out of their lives if they don’t conform. They might tell their supposed loved ones, “If you don’t stop rebelling, I’ll never talk to you again.” Or, “You aren’t welcome in my home until you come back to the fold.” Or, “I don’t want you talking to anyone in the family about your ‘beliefs’ or ‘opinions’. Your thinking is ‘wrong’, and I won’t tolerate you leading them down the ‘wrong’ path.”

I’m sure if you asked these folks if they love their family members whom they are so cavalierly threatening to cast out of their lives, they would say they do love them. Sometimes, this is an issue of control, but probably more often than not, these kinds of threats and ultimatums are based on fear of loss. In my husband’s ex wife’s case, she fears losing control and access to certain commodities. Although she joined the LDS church, she doesn’t actually agree with or care about the church’s teachings, and basically, she just uses it for control purposes. Apparently, she only goes to church now when she needs money. However, back in 2006, she sure did use the church and Bill’s decision to resign from the church as a means of trying to exert control and influence. Mormons, as a whole, are pretty famous about being willing to cast out unbelievers. Yes, there are exceptions– some church members are more liberal about their beliefs than others are– but a lot of church members see apostasy as a reason to disown, disinherit, and discard family members over a disagreement about religious beliefs.

And now, with the COVID-19 plague going on, it seems other people are also adopting that same “my way or the highway” attitude regarding the vaccines. Here are a few comments from the Washington Post article.

My honest reaction to anti vaxxers is astonishment and i express that.  That is self- respecting.  Infectious diseases are a fact.  I have no intentions of allowing ignorance on my watch.  (And how do you know that all of the anti vaxxers are being “ignorant”? Have you asked them?)

For antivacciners and antimaskers, it’s good to be compassionate and ask if they need a ride to a vaccination site or if they would like you to buy them some protection.  Ask if they are afraid of getting a shot and offer to accompany them to one.  Ask if they need making an appointment.  Give them a box of gloves.  Ask if they have a smart phone or a device to help them make appointments and to video chat.  (This response, while seemingly well-intentioned, seems rather manipulative and possibly insulting.)

I have mentioned that I am happy to be vaccinated. Usually others are too or are eagerly waiting. If they aren’t going to, I say, ” Really? Hmmm”. Walk away and check them off. I will easily drop any business, service provider or acquaintance and substitute them with a reasonable person. I have no time for this nonsense. (I’m sure the people you’re shunning don’t think of their opinions as “nonsense”.)

I read with interest your article regarding vaccinated parents and unvaccinated kids.  Speaking as a Warrior Mom, it absolutely exhausting dealing with this.  A calm parent with common sense says” My Teen will get vaccinated and my teen will spend time with his peer group.  The Nosy moms need to mind their own business. It is unacceptable and rude to ask your pod of moms ” When is your kid getting vaccinated.”  So let’s be polite and start focusing on summer plans and going to the beach. (What is a Warrior Mom? I’m pretty sure I didn’t have one of those!)

I have no problem telling someone who does not want to get the vaccine that it’s fine but they can’t come inside my home and they need to keep their distance on my porch. This includes my oldest kid who for some reason does not want it. I will be fully protected and my husband and our parents. Honestly that’s all that matters to me. The kid is an adult and can make his own misguided decisions.  (This is the comment that prompted me to write today’s post. It sounds a lot like Mormon parents kicking their kids out or telling them “I will never talk to you again.” I suppose this mom has the right to kick her son out of her life, but I suspect she could eventually end up regretting that decision.)

What a load of touchy-feely crap. FFS why after over a year are we still catering to those who simply won’t be persuaded? HERE’s how to talk about the shots: “I and everyone in my immediate family have been vaccinated. If you want our company, show us your vaccination certificates. If you don’t, or if you aren’t vaccinated yourself, you can count on never seeing us until you are.” Full stop.  Not only does this have the advantage of real world honesty and consequences, it will eventually show what kind of people one is surrounded with, particularly extended family. Their choice with the vaccine will eventually reveal which they value more: family, or clinging to myth, ego, suspicion, and ignorance. (I think this person overvalues his or her own company.)

Like I said… personally, I’m more than willing to get the shot. I’d like to get it over and done with. I have no issues with vaccinations. The science behind them has existed for hundreds of years, and the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine has been in the works since before COVID was a thing. I’m grateful scientists were able to develop them so quickly and I am definitely ready to cooperate, because this lifestyle, truly, is having a terrible effect on my mood and will to live.

But… even though I have my thoughts and opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine, and personally, I do think people should get them, I can also understand why some people are reluctant. I think it’s better to be compassionate toward them, rather than insulting and threatening. And I also think it’s crazy to throw away friendships and family relationships simply because of a disagreement about an illness that wasn’t even on the radar 18 months ago. Seriously? Are you really willing to cast out your loved ones over an argument about COVID-19? Isn’t it bad enough that so many people have actually DIED from this disease and will not ever be coming back? Are you really assuming that your “my way or the highway” attitude is the best way to get compliance, and that the person you are shunning won’t decide your company is that important to them, anyway?

I know some people would say, “But the fact that people are dying is the reason I’m taking such a strong stand about the vaccines. I know I’m right, and they’re wrong!” I get that. And I realize that to many people, it seems like the “my way or the highway” approach is the best, because– they tell themselves– this is the way to “save them”. However, most competent adults don’t take kindly to the negative approach and will resist it. And when it comes down to it, people must be free to make their own choices.

You can resolutely choose not to associate with people who refuse the shot– that’s your choice. And they can refuse to get vaccinated and wind up excluded from things like concerts, cruises, and flights. That’s their choice. But to say something along the lines of, “You aren’t welcome in my house.” or “I don’t want to see you again.” or “I’ll never talk to you again.” or “It’s my way or the highway” may cause a great deal of regret in the long run. Now is not the time to be extremely adversarial. As Joe Biden said some weeks ago, “We are at war with the virus, not each other.”

Everyone is struggling right now, and many people are legitimately frightened. Some people are frightened of catching COVID-19 and dying or living with “long hauler” syndrome. Other people are legitimately frightened of having the vaccine and suffering ill effects or even dying from it. Even if you and I think they’re being “silly” or even “stupid”, that fear is legitimate to them, and it can be difficult to overcome legitimate fear. Whether or not their fear has merit, they will probably remember your reaction to their fear, how it made them feel, and respond accordingly.

Interestingly enough, as I’m writing this post, I’m reminded of a quote that is often attributed to Maya Angelou. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m a big fan of verifying quotes to make sure the right person gets credit. Well, it appears that Maya Angelou is probably not, in fact, the originator of this quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It turns out, the originator of that quote was highly likely to be Carl W. Buehner, who was– surprise— a high level official in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! The earliest evidence located by Quote Investigator was in a 1971 book of quotes by Richard L. Evans, also a high ranking Mormon, who was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. The Mormons, for all of their dysfunction and propensity for misguided interventions regarding the religious beliefs of their loved ones, sure do put out a lot of quotable quotes for the masses.

It was also a Mormon woman named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Ironic, given the fact that LDS women are very much second bananas in the church’s hierarchy and the demands to “conform” to the rules and mores of the church are well established and known. Ulrich went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and later became a professor at Harvard University.

Clearly both of these quotable Mormons are highly intelligent and talented folks, even if I think their beliefs in Mormonism are ridiculous and certainly not worth shunning loved ones over. I don’t know if Ulrich or Buehner ever did have family members who decided the church wasn’t for them, but I do know that the LDS church is famous for people taking a “my way or the highway approach” regarding obeying the principles of Mormonism. Those who step out of line will be dealt with and, if the infraction is serious enough, potentially cast out of their families or even the church itself. That action kind of flies in the face of those “feel good” quotes, doesn’t it?

Isn’t it possible that people who aren’t ready to get the shot are similarly valuable? Do you really want the COVID-19 vaccine to be the hill your relationship dies upon? Again, isn’t it bad enough that people are literally dying of COVID-19?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t believe you should protect yourself. If someone refuses to follow protocol and you don’t feel safe around them, you are well within your rights to protect yourself. What I propose is approaching the naysayers with basic respect, compassion, and kindness, rather than hostility, sternness, derision, and ultimatums. Don’t use a “my way or the highway” approach in your attempts to persuade. Because there is a real chance that they’ll choose the highway. That might ultimately be alright with you, but I would encourage you to think about it carefully before you go there. Make sure you can live with the results of your “my way or the highway” attitude, because taking that approach may actually put you on the Highway to Hell.

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