Today was an "interesting" day. I went downtown to a Covid lockdown protest. Now, I've been to these protests before and I'm perfectly in favour of them - both because of the principal belief that people should have a right to protest over what they believe are injustices in society, and also because I think the lockdowns are a sham. I think they are a draconian overreach and need to be reeled in big-time.
Please hear me out. I do think this vaccine campaign is wrong and the lockdowns are wrong. But I am not anti-vaccine as a blanket rule.
I tend to think vaccines are not always good. But I refrain from making a blanket judgement that they are always bad. I don't know enough about them and I have to be honest in conversation to admit when I don't know a thing.
I am also aware that the science is not always as settled as the governments, major media and "big Pharma" would like us to think. And because of my worldview, I'm more inclined to believe the medical professionals who say lockdowns are destructive and not merely unnecessary, but are actually doing more harm than good.
There were some very vocal protestors who were being very derogatory toward the police who were there trying to enforce the public health orders. And it made my skin crawl.
Now, you have to keep in mind that I agreed with these protestors in principle. They seemed to understand the concept of the constitution and charters of rights and all. But they were lashing out at the police and shaming them - the very police who were there trying to protect their rights to protest the lockdowns.
I quickly got a sour taste in my mouth over some of the insults that were being hurled at the police: things like, "yeah, that's right. Pull your mask up to hide your shame." Or, "you're like the gestapo." Or, "you people are gutless wonders. You need to take a stand on the right side of this issue."
Those aren't exact quotes. Some of them were were using a little more "salty" language, if you catch my drift.
But hurling insults at the police who are trying to do their best to protect your right to complain about the laws they are being asked to enforce isn't the best way to do this.
Now, everyone in life may encounter a situation where standing on the right side of an issue may cost them.
But you're not going to get the police to get on your side by shaming them. It has to come by dialogue.
I was bothered by some of the things said to these police officers and was more than impressed with the restraint and lack of push-back they gave the crowd. It pretty quickly became obvious that these officers didn't want to be there (some of them even said so) and some of them, without actually coming out and saying it, made it pretty clear to me that they were on the same side of the issue as I was.
But they still have their jobs to do.
Now, it's easy for the crowd to yell at the police and criticize them for not "standing on the right side of the issue."
But what also became clear to me after I actually talked with the police is that they were representing a broad spectrum of the public who do not all agree about whether or not there should be lockdowns to contain this virus.
And it also became pretty clear to me that they get a lot of complaints from people who think the protestors are part of the problem by continuing to spread the disease by meeting in groups which (in their minds) contributes to making this virus go on forever with "mass-spreader" events.
And something else occurred to me, and it was this:
I don't know if, when we are protesting, we are aware of how our unruly behaviour looks to people who disagree with us. We need to start thinking about how we are perceived by the very people we are trying to reach.
I find that people on both sides of these issues tend to look at the people on the other side through a lens that sees "the other side" as simply not having thought it through; it assumes they have had access to the same experiences and information we have and yet have chosen to ignore it.
And if I can say it, I think it's easy to see people on the other side as perhaps worse than uninformed; perhaps they are even not so smart as we are. Maybe even a little.... stupid.
And as we look at people on the other side, we don't always maintain an awareness that they are likely looking at us the same way - uninformed and probably downright stupid.
We need to be aware that if we simply "rah rah rah" with the people on our side and continue only to listen to those who hold opinions similar to ours, we end up merely creating our own echo-chambers where we reinforce our opinions by repetition rather than by building our ideas on understanding, and by processing the arguments from the other side, giving solid answers in response.
I'm convinced we don't hear the other side - in their terms. We don't hear their concerns well enough to be able to speak to those concerns in language that will help them see where they've missed it. And that is a shame because that was supposed to be our goal.
I heard a lot of emotion in the chants and the shouting of the protestors. I heard a lot of anger with lockdowns they feel are unjust and uncalled for; they are angry with the police for enforcing laws they should not be compelled to enforce. They feel a threat from what looks like the encroaching requirement to compel vaccines that are potentially worse than the disease.
The problem is that all the speech was in broad, angry brush strokes - anger over the tyranny, over frustration with unjust laws and shutdowns being enforced. Not much of what they were saying was nuanced with clear facts. It was only stained with the feelings those facts have left behind.
I heard all the right "takeaways" being said about what I, too, believe is going on here. The protestors were making all the right points based on all the facts I believe are true and well-proven by many healthcare professionals.
In ever-increasing numbers, well-qualified professionals - immunologists, doctors and statisticians - are disagreeing with the mainstream. These professionals are trying to speak out against the general media monologue that says these shutdowns and/or vaccines are the answer. Many health professionals are on "our" side on this, to varying degrees, at least.
And I heard the protestors repeating the takeaways from these doctors and immunologists with great fervour and with great repetition, always cloaked with emotion. But...
Because of the lack of clarity in these broad brush strokes of chanting and yelling at the police, they end up looking to the other side like a bad version of Monty Python skit.
And we can do better.
I think what struck me today was that there are two specific ways, among others, where we can do better.
First, we need to get past using fuzzy and unclear talking points that only make sense to those of us who are already convinced that they are true. We need to have authority and clarity behind the facts we speak.
Second, we need to realize that not every police officer and government official who is trying to enforce these lockdowns are necessarily the face of satan among us.
The gospel is not spread this way; and neither is any other paradigm-changing thought.
So on the first point: we need to get to a place of knowing how to effectively appeal to authority in presenting the truth to those who do not know.
I don't remember all the arguments of the cell physiology that make this "vaccine" a potentially deadly recipe for disaster. I've heard them and they make perfect sense in the moment.
But even if I can articulate the science behind how the vaccine is bad news and a potentially disastrous science experiment, I need to be honest enough to ask myself a question: why do I expect other people should believe me?
I also need to ask myself even more so why, if I present a half-cocked, rough rendition of the facts with all the details knocked off, people should just think it makes sense when they have been listening to their own echo chambers of health professionals telling them that the vaccine is the answer and that we protestors are the problem.
The short answer is that I shouldn't expect people on the wrong side of this issue to believe anything I say, unless I can back it with facts, and point them to the people who can present those facts with the authority and credentials that show they should be heard.
Unfortunately, the way it works is that since we are in the minority, we need better and clearer presentations of the truth to overcome the slant here. We carry the burden of the clearer proof and the more clearly articulated arguments to win this disinformation war.
Make a list of resources - websites that spell out the information in a clear and concise manner - from doctors and immunologists who speak their concerns with clarity and authority. Be willing to listen to the people on the wrong side of the issue and truly hear what their arguments are, and be willing to consider their points, if you've not already done so.
We know we are right and they are wrong. But they "know" that they are right and we are wrong, too.
And so, if you don't have the answer, be willing to say so. You can't promote ongoing dialogue if pride gets in the way of them believing you are truly presenting your points because you care about them, and not merely about your rights.
Until we stop talking past each other, and find ways to point them to the clearly articulated reasons why they are wrong, we will make much more heat than light. Not everyone will hear your vague, broad brushstroke arguments. Some people need information. Do as Peter said in the New Testament: always be ready with an answer for the hope that lies within you.
But in this day and age we live in, we need to understand how to do that effectively. And in part, that means recognizing our limitations in convincing everyone we are right. We will do better to point people in the direction of those who have the authority to cause the naysayers to give the opposing arguments the time of day.
And if I can say it, when we present the arguments and the resources, we need to always remember we are talking to people who are not our enemy here. We need to be as J. I. Packer said, when presenting the gospel: we are not to be speaking to them like we are straightening them out, but merely as "one beggar showing another beggar where we found bread."
And regarding the authorities we have to deal with, especially the police trying to keep peace and do their jobs at these rallies,
We need to stop automatically looking at the police and government officials who are dealing with this as enemies of the common good.
They might be. But for the most part, the people on the ground - patrolling the parks as we protest and managing the vaccine clinics for those who want them - are just doing their jobs. They are doing their best to obey orders. Some of them believe we are right; some think we are dead wrong. And they have to represent everyone - even the people who disagree with us - and keep us all playing in the sandbox without killing each other.
But whether the police think we are right or they think we are wrong, we need to realize that praying for and prayerfully encouraging police and the medical professionals to do the right thing is more effective than berating them and trying to shame them.
And that is most effectively done by building relationships with them.
Do I believe that police enforcing these draconian measures are on the wrong side of the law, the constitution and the charters of rights? Absolutely.
But hitting people with the facts they've not yet heard causes them to have to process a whole different worldview - one that might well cost them to embrace it.
For them to get on the right side of this issue may cost them their JOBS.
You get to go home after the rally and tuck yourself back into your house that you can probably still pay for Monday morning because you can go back to your job after your rally. But these doctors and police officers that you are interacting with may have a huge price to pay in coming over to the right side of these issues. They are people with lives and families, too. And they still need to feed those families.
Sometimes it takes a while to convince someone to make a change in their world view when that change may cost them more than they ever thought they would have to pay as the cost for doing right.
And if you consider Jesus and the gospel, and how the early church spread it, it was by building relationships with people, interacting with them, and letting the God season their conversations with grace and kindness, giving the Holy Spirit something to work with.
Let's learn to be clear, to appeal to authority to win over our opponents, to be respectful of those who differ, always with an understanding of the resources we need to use to point people in the right direction on this issue.
Otherwise, we may well merely come across as like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.