disasters, expressions

Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong…

As a new week begins here in the land of perpetual lockdowns, my mind is on a heartbreaking opinion piece I just read in The Washington Post. A public health nurse practitioner, writer, and former Army Captain named Jackie Munn wrote about how her parents both contracted COVID-19 a few months ago. Munn’s father, a 28 year Army veteran, had tried to care for his ailing wife, Julie Anne Oeser, while he was himself ill. Unfortunately, Ms. Oeser’s condition deteriorated and she had to go to the hospital. She had initially resisted going, fearing that she wouldn’t come home. Sadly, she was right. On January 26, 2021, as many people were getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations, Julie Anne Oeser died. Her family stood around her bedside. She had spent 11 days in the intensive care unit, battling the novel coronavirus.

Jackie Munn is understandably very angry that she’s lost her mother, who was 62 years old and had “few preexisting conditions.” She writes that her family had “done its part” to fight COVID-19. Munn’s sisters, Jess and Jenn, are also in healthcare. Jenn works as an emergency room nurse in a hospital east of Los Angeles, California. Jess is a medical laboratory scientist at a Kansas City area hospital. Their parents had taken the pandemic seriously and followed all precautions, to include social distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing face masks. Both planned to be vaccinated, although Ms. Oeser died before she was able to take that step.

Jackie Munn writes, “…as a West Point graduate and combat veteran, I was taught that good leaders chose the harder right over the easier wrong.” She acknowledges that her father and older sister, both veterans like her, and been trained to do things that might be unpleasant or uncomfortable, but serve the common good. And she’s understandably pissed off that so many Americans, many of whom were egged on by our former leader, Trump, have decided not to “do their part” to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Birx speaks about the vaccines now available.

Munn blames Trump, of course, as well as Dr. Deborah Birx, who was herself an Army colonel and had been part of the COVID-19 task force in the Trump administration. She served as the COVID-19 Response Coordinator for Trump’s White House. Birx was recently in the news admitting that many COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented if people had taken the virus more seriously and Trump had been a more responsible leader. I remember watching Deborah Birx on video, looking visibly uncomfortable as Trump spoke about COVID-19. She knew the truth, but unlike her colleague, Dr. Anthony Fauci, she did not feel that she could say it out loud. She’s said that she had many “uncomfortable” discussions with Trump. My guess is that he threatened her.

She didn’t feel empowered to speak out during Trump’s reign. She says she should have been more outspoken.
These folks felt “muzzled” by Trump. Dr. Birx says that after the first 100,000 deaths, the subsequent carnage wrought by the virus could have been prevented.

Although I haven’t yet been personally affected by COVID-19, my heart goes out to Jackie Munn and the rest of her family. And yet, I also have some empathy for Dr. Birx. It’s easy for people to say she should have done more. They aren’t in the position she was in, and they weren’t directly dealing with a man like Trump, threatening, bullying, and browbeating them into doing his bidding. I can’t help but realize that Trump is a malignant narcissist, and if you’ve never had to deal with such a person, you have no idea how difficult it is not to bend to their will. They can be extremely convincing, even if they aren’t the U.S. POTUS… and when they are someone as powerful as Trump was, with many minions ready to carry out his wishes, it seems like an impossible situation to be in.

I don’t blame Dr. Birx for deciding to retire. I think it’s a shame that all of the legitimately good work she’s done over the course of her career, to include work in mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS, is going to be tarnished by her unfortunate connection with Trump. I think she was in a no win situation. I can see why it was so hard for her to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong,” even if doing so might have saved lives.

Naturally, I had to read the comments on Jackie Munn’s piece. It was a lot of the same polarized crap we’ve been reading for over a year now. Many people– I’d say maybe 85%– had nothing but condolences and commiseration to add to Munn’s piece. It really is a sad read, and it resonates with a lot of people. A few other people were obviously ignorant pro-Trump trolls, who are clearly belligerent and selfish. But I also noticed a few people whom I thought made sense being called “trolls” or angrily shouted down by the masses. Here are a couple of examples:

Those of you who “know” me, know that I’m not a fan of group think or echo chamber comments. So many people seem to want to pat themselves on the backs for doing the “right” thing, for the good of everyone else. I’ve seen so many self-congratulatory and outright pious comments from people who claim they have done everything correctly and figuratively spit on everyone they assume isn’t toeing the line created by the likes of Dr. Fauci. Don’t get me wrong. I admire Dr. Fauci’s work, and I think he’s a very smart man who knows what he’s talking about. He definitely knows a hell of a lot more than the average Internet user. I also agree that people should do their parts to control the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more rational discussion, rather than chastising and insulting perfect strangers online.

I had to quit reading the comments when I realized I’d started rooting for the people who were gamely taking on all of the arrogant lecturing and blaming done by those who are all about everyone being forced to do the “right” things. I am not a fan of forcing people to do right, especially when people take a black and white, zero tolerance view. There are always situations that require exceptions to the rules, and the people who require exceptions should have a chance to be heard without being screamed down by others. I don’t like to be the devil’s advocate myself, because I find dealing with the deluge of irritating comments from graduates of the Google School of Public Health too tiresome and ultimately pointless. But I do secretly cheer on those who take on these folks. Most of us can Google. Not all of us are going to come to the same conclusions. That should be okay. People should be allowed to share their thoughts and opinions if they want to, and the ones who make some sense should have their thoughts respectfully considered, even if their conclusions are eventually rejected.

I’m getting especially “prickly” when I see some all knower write something like “You do know that…” or “Pretty sure that…” or “And your medical/public health degree is from…” or “What about seatbelts and helmets…” I don’t think the COVID-19 situation is akin to the other safety measures enforced by law. Ms. Munn is obviously gutted that her mother has died. I can’t blame her for that. I don’t blame her for trying to place responsibility on other people, either. It’s only natural. But even if everyone was wearing a mask and social distancing, there’s a chance her mother still would have gotten sick. There may have been far less of chance, but the chance still existed.

Not everyone is going to get onboard with the new rules. Some people never will, no matter what we do. There’s a good chance those people won’t spread COVID-19, despite breaking the rules. On the other hand there’s a good chance they will. We don’t know who passed the virus to Jackie Munn’s mom, but we do know that it’s an extremely contagious bug, and even if someone does everything right, as Ms. Munn’s mom presumably did, people are still going to get sick, and some people are still going to die. Hopefully, with the advent of the new vaccines, those numbers will drop significantly.

I think it’s useless to point the finger at random people who aren’t doing what they’re told. Those people have their reasons for not cooperating. Maybe you and I think their reasons are stupid, but they obviously think they’re right. And unless we stop and talk to them and actually listen respectfully to what they have to say, they probably won’t cooperate, even if they’re dead wrong. How many random strangers are going to change their habits just because someone insulted them and left an angry comment? On the other hand, if we engage with them from a place of respect and decency, maybe we can come to a meeting of the minds. Maybe then, more people will “choose the harder right over the easier wrong.”

A few days ago, I got into a minor scuffle with some woman from Australia. Well, actually, she tried to start a scuffle with me. I ignored her, which probably pissed her off. Anyway, what happened was, I had read an article about a type of dermatitis that is being caused by mask wearing. Many people are getting perioral dermatitis and mistaking it for acne. The condition doesn’t clear up when they use acne remedies, and they have painful reactions, as their sensitive skin is abraded by constantly wearing the masks.

A woman posted that she was dealing with this condition herself. That’s when Tiffany from Australia responded that she’s owned a medical practice for twenty years, has to wear masks, and just sucks it up and drives on. The original poster came back and reiterated that the dermatitis was actually very painful. Tiffany still had no empathy for her. She wrote that she has the dermatitis too, but she still does her part and masks up. Here’s a cookie, Tiffany.

Enjoy.

I was a bit disgusted by Tiffany’s lack of regard for this woman and her valid complaint. So I wrote, “You made a choice to go into healthcare, where masks are required. Most of the rest of us didn’t. It’s not nice to discount other people’s legitimate problems.” Several people agreed with me, and I got quite a few likes for that comment… not that I needed the likes. They just told me that I wasn’t the only one who found Tiffany’s “suck it up and drive on” attitude annoying.

Next thing I knew, I got a message that Tiffany wanted to “connect” with me. I discovered her message maybe an hour or so after that exchange. I had a feeling she was going to blast me privately. I didn’t read her whole message, but saw enough of it to know that she felt I had no right to call her out for her virtue signaling and she was telling me off in my PMs. The end of her message was, “Cat got your tongue?”

If had responded, I might have said, “I didn’t even realize you had messaged me until I saw my phone. I don’t get those notifications on an iPad. Moreover, your decision to PM me doesn’t require me to answer you. If you want to address me, you can do it publicly and respectfully. Otherwise, I have nothing more to say to you.” What I really would have liked to have said to her, and anyone else who PMs me uninvited and is abusive is, “We don’t know each other, so piss off!” In the end, I chose to ignore her completely, which probably left her feeling like the wind was let out of her sails.

I wonder how many people would like to get in on the discussion and have valid perspectives to add, but choose not to because of bullies like Tiffany who want to call them “babies” or tell them to get over themselves. Likewise, while I completely understand Jackie Munn’s anger, frustration, and outrage that she lost her mother at age 62, I don’t think issuing a blanket blame toward anyone who isn’t doing what she thinks they should be doing is productive. Would she be just as angry if her mom had gotten the flu and died? How about if her mom had had an accident? Would she have felt better if many more people were wearing masks and her mom still died of COVID-19? It’s possible that could have happened, too. The bottom line is, the situation Jackie Munn is in is terrible, and it seems unfair. But we’re in a pandemic, and people are going to die, just as they die in wars and other catastrophes. It doesn’t mean the situation isn’t horrible and tragic– but unfortunately, blaming the world for her mom’s death isn’t going to bring her back from the dead.

Now… to wrap this up and get on with my day…

A few days ago, I wrote a protected post about a situation we’re in right now. It’s going to require some tough choices that may make things temporarily worse before they’re better. Or, they could make things permanently worse. And yet, Bill and I both know that it’s the right thing to do, and it’s something we should have done a long time ago. I was thinking of that situation when I read Jackie Munn’s words– the lesson she learned at West Point– “choosing the harder right over the easier wrong.” It’s so easy to turn a blind eye and let people get away with doing bad things. But in the long run, it can cost dearly.

I’m truly sorry about Jackie Munn’s loss. I absolutely appreciate all she and her sisters have done to fight COVID-19. I’m going to continue doing whatever I can to stop the spread. I stay home about 90% of the time and, on the very rare occasions when I do go places, I follow the rules. But unfortunately, I also know that the virus is very contagious, and some people can and will do everything right and still get COVID-19. It’s not necessarily anyone else’s fault when this happens, and I don’t think it’s helpful to blame others. It’s just a sad fact that until more people are fully vaccinated, people are going to get very sick, and some will die.

Yes, we should do all we can to reduce the numbers and cooperate for the common good. But there will be casualties regardless, and there will be heartbroken people who will suffer tremendous losses, no matter what they do. I also realize that I may very well be among those who will lose, as Bill and I anxiously await the vaccine ourselves. May God help us all.

Standard
complaints, musings

Silencing the critics…

Well hello there, folks. It’s another snowy day here in Wiesbaden. This year, we’re getting a lot more white stuff than we have over the past couple of years. Bill and I now live in a town that is kind of in a valley, so when it does snow, it tends to be light and not hang around for long. When we lived in Jettingen, down near Stuttgart, we would get snow that would hang around for weeks, because we were higher in elevation. I kind of miss the deeper snows. Right now, our backyard is positively sodden with mud.

Now, with the obligatory weather discussion done, on with today’s topic. As you know, if you’ve read my stuff often, I often torture myself with comments on Facebook. I also get comments on my blog posts. I do publish the vast majority of non-spam comments I receive, even if they’re critical. I am a believer in people being able to speak up if they feel inclined to voice an opinion. I do not publish comments that are insulting or abusive, unless I’m turning that comment into a rant… which I feel fine with doing when someone is an asshole. Hey– if you don’t want me to rant about you, be very careful what you post.

One thing I’ve noticed a lot of is that people seem to get very upset when someone takes an opposing or unusual view. For instance, a few days ago, I got a comment from a “stranger”– that is, someone who had never commented on my blog before. This person, name of Judy, felt the need to correct my opinion about Skylar Mack’s punishment in the Cayman Islands. Although her comment was written, and therefore didn’t have an audible tone, per se, I could tell that she felt I was wrong and needed to be put in my place. She seemed to think I should be silenced, perhaps.

Frankly, it seemed to me that Judy’s comment probably came more from an emotional reaction than rational thought. Yes, she seemed angry that Skylar Mack had gone to the Cayman Islands and broke quarantine. As an American, maybe she was embarrassed on Skylar’s behalf. Or maybe she was jealous that Skylar got to travel to “paradise”, but then didn’t have enough respect for the rules. Or maybe she was just virtue signaling; that is, showing everyone what a “good and respectful” person she is by siding with the morality police. There’s nothing wrong with being good and respectful, unless, of course, you’re only doing it “for show”.

I wrote back to Judy. My comment was kind of long and involved, and I doubt Judy ever read it, but Skylar Mack’s case is one I’ve thought about a lot. It’s not so much that I think so highly of her or what she did. It’s more because the public response to her case happens to be a recent one that outlines a problem I’ve noticed lately. It seems like people have become more black and white in their thinking. And a lot of people seem to have lost their capacity for forbearance and mercy. We’re all very quick to turn on each other and become completely unreasonable.

I’ve noticed the same thing on other comment sections, especially on Facebook, but also on news sites. Someone will post a comment that isn’t the status quo, and people will just glom on, often with insults or derision. I can understand doing that when someone is obviously being snarky about a serious topic. However, I’ve also seen people do it when a person has obviously put some thought and effort into their comment and hasn’t been rude. If what the person has written doesn’t follow the common thinking on a topic, he or she will get trounced by others.

I wonder where this comes from. Are we all so afraid of other viewpoints that we have to “silence the critics” who dare to think outside of the box or say something that isn’t the party line? And why, if we feel the need to offer a rebuttal, must it so often be done in a disrespectful, derisive way? Why is it necessary to insult people when they disagree? Especially if you don’t even know the person?

I like to read thoughtful comments. Sometimes, people present perspectives I haven’t considered, or they have knowledge that I don’t have. But so often, intelligent comments on Facebook or news sites are diluted by rudeness or insults or outright spam. That makes me wonder if people ever think beyond their own opinions. Are we just interested in being in echo chambers, confident and comforted that we all agree? Or do people like to learn from others?

Of course, sometimes people attack and shame people online because of nefarious reasons. For example, one of the reasons I moved my blog from Blogger is because I had a persistent “stalker” (for lack of a better word) who was monitoring my posts and stirring up trouble with other people. This person also had the nerve to send me private messages and leave comments on my blog, which she later deleted. Her comments were often in support of what I’d written. But then after I responded to her, she’d remove them, because she no doubt was singing a different tune to the other side. I didn’t confront her about the deletions, but I knew something was off about it. Clearly, she was trying to play both sides and remove proof– classic triangulation.

My theory is that she was doing these things, not so much because she truly believed I was wrong and needed to be “set straight”, but more because she knew I was right and was about to bust her for being the dishonest snake she is. I had figured some things out about her and the person with whom she had shared my posts. I had voiced them on my blog. She didn’t want the other side, with whom she was sharing my posts, to see that she had agreed on some level, nor did she want me to jar the other side into thinking differently about her. For some reason, she valued a relationship with the other side, and she didn’t want to be outed for being a liar. Of course, the other side was just as dishonest as she was, and they both had a lot to gain by forcing Bill and me to literally pay for their shady behavior.

I also realized that she and her accomplice had lied to Bill and me. She thought we were suckers, and probably figured she could pressure us into taking the fall for things she did, while maintaining a facade of innocence. So she’d send me these shaming comments and private messages, hoping I’d be scared into silence.

She may not realize, or even care that what she did was very damaging to me on a personal level. It may not seem like it to everyone who reads my blogs, but I’m a very decent and responsible person. I try to be fair and open to different perspectives on most matters. I tend to think long and hard about most of my opinions, although I can’t say that I don’t sometimes “pop off” when I get upset about something. I can and do change my mind when new information is presented, though, and I am willing to apologize when I get something wrong. I was very upset when she made some damning insinuations about my character, especially since she was totally wrong.

Then, after the dust had settled a bit, I started to think more about what had actually happened. I remembered meeting her in person. I remembered her body language and things she and her husband said, as well as the way her accomplices behaved. I started thinking about all of the interactions we’d had online. And then I realized, she obviously thought I was a sucker and was playing the other side, too. She had recognized me as a kind, understanding, conscientious person, and she thought that giving me negative and shaming feedback would scare me into being quiet. I wonder how she feels now, since it was proven that Bill and I were not the ones who were doing things wrong. She’d just wanted to “silence the critics”, so she could get away with being a completely irresponsible creep.

I was initially hurt by her accusations and attacks. Now, I’m left here still feeling angry, but vindicated. Because in the end, she and her toxic buddy were not successful in what they were trying to do. She picked the wrong person to screw with, if only because Bill and I have had years of experience dealing with dishonest, toxic people like her who lie, cheat, and steal. But I won’t say that the experience wasn’t hurtful for us. We lost about two years of our lives to it. And going through an experience like that can make it much harder to be a “truth teller”.

I realize that the last few paragraphs might seem kind of cryptic. You might blame that on what that person did. She spent several years monitoring me from afar, causing trouble behind the scenes, and finally trying very hard to get us to pay for her dishonesty and duplicity. Maybe others have had similar experiences, and that’s why so many of us are so afraid of views that are disagreeable. Maybe it feels “unsafe” to disagree.

So, when someone posts a comment that is, for example, not 100% in favor of wearing face masks until death, lots of people will feel free to pile on. And they disagree by being insulting, rude, or just flat out disagreeing with no attempt to even consider why the other person came up with a different perspective. If you’re strongly in favor of the status quo, people are less likely to attack you. Right now, face masks are many people’s panacea against COVID-19. If you’re not 100% for them, you must be part of the problem AND you must also support Trumpism. But that’s not really true, is it? Could there be more to that issue than just black or white? I think so.

It doesn’t seem to occur to some people that you can have a respectful and thoughtful discussion with another person. Maybe you won’t change the other person’s mind, but you will have offered some food for thought. I like those kinds of discussions. I’d like to have more of them, especially with thoughtful people who can talk about things without trying to silence the critics..

Standard