A few weeks ago I tested positive for Covid. I immediately messaged everyone I had been in contact with. The one person I was most concerned about was an unvaccinated friend. She has chosen not to get vaccinated. All discussions with her on the subject become a heated debate. Avoidance has been the best way of not falling out - until I tested positive.
I was genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. I wasn’t worried for myself –the Omicron variant appeared to be producing mild symptoms amongst those vaccinated, but the unvaccinated were often a different story. The statistics showed it was the unvaccinated who generally required hospital care and treatment.
When I told her I had tested positive I was amazed by her nonchalance. And also angry. How could she be so cavalier and, how dare she make me feel so worried. I put this to her. It did not go well. She saw it as a barb (which of course it was ) and reacted accordingly. She simply didn’t see that my concern (which came out as anger) was based on a genuine fear for her health.
The situation kept me awake. Her no-vaccine stance was downright selfish. I decided to call her. I thought it best to be direct and asked her why she thought she could afford not to vaccinate. She didn’t want to discuss it but I wouldn’t let it go. As far as I was concerned she was being unreasonable. I stood firm. I heard her take a deep breath and then she quietly explained that soon after getting vaccinated against typhoid for a business trip to India a few years ago she found out she was pregnant. A few days later she miscarried. Her doctor said she had just been unlucky and there had not necessarily a correlation between the vaccination and miscarriage but since then she was fearful of vaccinations.
I heard the pain in her voice and I tried to do that thing we mediators ask of our clients - I put myself in her shoes . I tried to understand how she saw things. No matter if I didn’t agree with her. We had a frank and open discussion about the whole subject of vaccination. I asked her to hear to my viewpoint. She did. She listened as I explained how fear for her health had triggered anger in me. We were both able to explain, listen and hear one another. We would never agree but now we had a mutual understanding of one another’s concerns. This understanding has enabled us to move on.
Only once you can understand the emotions driving the other by really listening to what they have to say - allowing them to be heard - will you be able to move forward. You don’t have to agree. In fact, agreeing really isn’t the point. If you can achieve this for the parties to a mediation, issues can be more easily resolved and, sometimes, even dissipate.
My friend and I still agree to disagree on vaccination but we now know where the other is coming from and have been able to resume our friendship. In fact, we have benefited from this closer understanding.