Over the years, people have blamed diseases upon God, Satan, witches, ghosts, evil spirits, stale air, cats (instead of rats), rats (instead of fleas), swamp air (instead of mosquitos), the four humors, sinfulness, and who knows what else! Today, however, most look to different causes for health problems: genetics, air pollution, contaminated food or water, lack of exercise, heavy metals, bacterias, viruses, weakened bodies, black mold, prions - and rarely - the ingredients of vaccines.
Emblematic of the enormity of this discussion is the 11.3 BILLION dollar annual budget of the CDC! Humans do not allocate such sums for simple questions! Still, with all these committed resources, the CDC cannot offer us a flawless answer. And yet, we all have to make decisions about this complex subject. So, how do we decide?
In the arena of human immunity, public health, and vaccines, we can observe three basic decision-making styles which we are defining as: Simplifiers, Delegators, and Questioners. ALL three decision-making styles are valid, offer value to the community, and deserve our respect.
First, it is vitally important to acknowledge that Simplifiers are not simple. However, their preferred approach is to simplify a complex subject into a few basic rules. They are the people who tend to say, "All vaccines are safe!" or "All vaccines are dangerous!" This greatly simplifies decision-making! As in religion, the greatest zealots are often the converts. Simplifiers who feel their previous choices were wrong are often very diligent about trying to rescue everyone else from repeating their mistakes. When Simplifiers ask questions, they are attempting to either establish some simple rules or reinforce existing rules.
Next, we have Delegators. Delegators select an expert they find trustworthy and follow their instructions. This makes sense, given that life - and especially parenting - can be quite challenging, and no one can become an expert in every subject. Delegators may do a great deal of research on selecting that expert, or none at all. When Delegators ask questions, they are attempting to evaluate the qualifications of an expert.
The third group is Questioners. Questioners are fascinated by the subject, comfortable with ambiguity, and driven to continually ask questions. Questioners often seek out experts as a source of information, but will always reserve the rights and responsibilities of making choices for themselves. Questioners seek their own "best possible" solution to these complex questions while keeping their unique situation in mind. Even after Questioners have found adequate solutions for themselves, they often continue asking questions simply for the joy of discovery.
Each group tends to have a strong bias that their way of deciding is best for society. And each one is incorrect. All three decision-making styles offer tremendous benefits for society. While we may annoy each other at times, we need each other.
Simplifiers often have a great deal of passion about the subject. They keep the conversation publicly alive, and their actions can prevent society from becoming complacent about the issue.
Delegators are often the least opinionated and can help calm down overheated conversations. Also, when seeking out relatively rare or subtle effects of vaccines & diseases, researchers can utilize the medical records of thousands or even millions of Delegators to advance medical knowledge for all of society.
Questioners can be annoying. However, by highlighting existing problems and demanding better solutions, Questions are an integral part of the ongoing effort to improve public health. Questioners remind us to use all of our medical tools to best advantage instead of relying completely on one solution.
A society that accepts all three categories of "decision-making strategies" ends up with healthier people, better science and better public health policy. So how to apply this in the real world of talking to your neighbors about diseases, public health, immunity, and vaccinations?
The first steps happen within yourself. Identify your own style. Understand that your own decision-making style is not the only style. Then accept that the other styles are reasonable choices.
Next, figure out the style of the person you’re talking with. Does your conversation partner frequently make statements without caveats or exceptions? No matter how well researched their opinion, they’re probably a Simplifier. Does your conversation partner frequently reference how much they trust the advice of a certain individual or group? No matter how empowered they are, this person is probably a Delegator. Does your conversation partner pause and reflect upon the complexity of the issue before sharing information? No matter how opinionated they are, they’re probably a Questioner.
So you know your own style and you know your conversational partner’s style. Now what?
If you are a Simplifier, please understand that not everyone shares your beliefs. Overt judgmentalism will cause more damage then you think. Whether you are ready to hear this or not, you do not have the best answer for every person, family, or community. You have a potentially good set of ideas. Share them with a loving heart, sensitivity and tact.
If you are a Delegator, you have found an expert which you trust. If you wish to encourage others to follow your chosen path, please remember that each family’s unique constellation of circumstances matters. Your expert may not be a good fit for another family. Also, some Questioners find the idea of delegation to be personally offensive, even if the expert is top-notch. Be sensitive to this value, even though you don’t share it.
If you are a Questioner, please remember that continually asking questions is deeply uncomfortable for some people. Many prefer to believe there is an attainable "best answer" and that they have found it. Alternately, many prefer to trust another person to sort through the overwhelming information on their behalf. Please respect both these choices. Not everyone has the time, energy, or interest to be a Questioner.
Whether you are a Simplifier, Delegator, or Questioner, remember to stop talking sometimes and listen. There is a different story behind every person’s decisions. Ask about them. You might be surprised by the answers.
"A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond" is an ongoing series written by two close friends with a passion for improving community cohesion and building respectful relationships in a diverse world. This article was co-created by Karen Crisalli Winter and March Twisdale.