In the introduction to her recent book, Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start—And Why They Don’t Go Away, Heidi J. Larson, a professor at London School Of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the founding director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, narrates an interesting experience while she was stuck in traffic in New Delhi.
She writes, “it was winter in India. I was sitting in a holy cow and Krishna-adorned taxi in New Delhi, driving to meet colleagues working in the Ministry of Health. We were stuck in traffic, with a cacophony of impatient horns sounding in the background. The polluted smog was thick, so taking a deep breath to stay calm was not an option. I looked out the window—a movie in itself—and found a moment of wisdom, one of those moments India is famous for. A half-bent sign at the side of the road, in large painted red letters on a once-white background, announced ‘You are not stuck IN traffic, you ARE traffic.’
“That moment, and the mantra, has stayed with me ever since. It has helped me navigate and understand the situations we find ourselves in, as individuals and as societies, not surrounded by but creators of our ‘stuck-ness.’ The difference in perspective, in language, and in experience that define the tensions between scientists and nonscientists, between those observing the traffic, counting the cars, studying the patterns, and informing the rules, and those caught in the traffic, frustrated, caught in the herd, and feeling voiceless, is an allegory of the dynamics which are driving global networks of vaccine dissent.”
The core message of the book is that it’s not all about science, it’s also emotions, sentiments and beliefs. It’s about understanding people, and listening to them with an open heart. Science is necessary, but not sufficient.
She writes, “this is not a call to throw scientific facts out the window in favour of a sole focus on emotions and beliefs. The point is that we need a more holistic, context-aware, and dynamic engagement between publics and those who develop the technologies and determine the policies and which depend on public cooperation for their success.”
A recent profile of Prof Larson in The New Yorker is worth reading and re-reading, in part because it’s written by a physician herself, testing out some of the key insights from Larson’s life and work. It’s here.
In this issue
- Come to terms
- Everyone is fighting a hard battle
Come to terms
The author John Gardner delivered a talk at McKinsey’s Arizona office on November 10, 1990, the transcript of which we bookmarked. It contains reminders we like to look up every once a while, particularly when the pace of life gets frenetic.
“Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask ‘What is it trying to teach me?’ The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.
“We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can't change, by taking risks.
“The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behaviour. You leant not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.
“You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.
“Those are things that are hard to learn early in life. As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As Norman Douglas said ‘There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.’
“You come to terms with yourself.”
Everyone is fighting a hard battle. Therefore…
Looking around, do you see the world has gotten ruder during the pandemic? A case in point is the tiff between a Zomato user and a customer care executive. The incident, which sparked an intense debate online and offline, is framed mostly in terms of North Vs South or Hindi imposition in non-Hindi states, but it was also about rudeness. The Zomato executive was rude to the customer, but as many pointed out, the user was rude to the executive too.
It’s not just an India phenomenon. An article in Time explores what’s behind the trend.
“There’s some international agreement that the situation may not just be one where people have forgotten their manners, or are out of practice because everyone had to stop shaking hands for a while. Matteo Bonotti and Steven T. Zech, both of the politics department at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who wrote Recovering Civility During Covid 19, conclude that even if the people were initially bamboozled because they had to communicate using a new set of rules, that soon wore off.
“‘At the very beginning [of the pandemic] people just didn’t know how to be polite,’ says Zech. It was hard to communicate a smile, and it became necessary to avoid rather than embrace people. But after a certain point, the unintentional rudeness became intentional and deliberate. ‘It’s meant to call attention to what they see as this kind of unjust policy, some discrimination, or some infringement on some other right,’ says Zech. In the minds of some of the individuals, snapping at the flight attendant is not rude, it’s civil disobedience.”
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