I read a story the other day about a couple in Germany. They had enjoyed a harmonious marriage for more than 20 years until the time of Covid, when each adopted beliefs directly opposed to the other. Their arguments became more and more violent, until last year they split up.
Before I briefly characterize their views, I ask the reader to take a breath and prepare to notice of which party you may reflexively side with, and how you hope the story ends.
The husband rejected the mainstream Covid narrative. He came to believe the whole thing was a “plandemic”initiated deliberately to impose global totalitarian control. He came to believe that death figures were exaggerated, that masks confer no benefit, and that the vaccines were both ineffective and unsafe.
The wife held mainstream views. She believed that it was not only prudent to strictly abide by all public health measures for her own protection, but also morally imperative to do so for the protection of others. She trusted in the integrity of scientific institutions, public health agencies, and the news media. She believed the vaccines were a triumph of science. She got vaxxed and boosted, and was deeply disturbed by her husband’s refusal to do so, afraid he would infect her and angry that he was putting others at risk. It was therefore she who initiated the divorce.
Today the couple is back together.
Wouldn’t you like to hear that one of them (the one you disagree with) saw the error of his or her ways, and finally came to the truth? My use of the past tense in telling the story (“she believed,” “he believed”) suggests that is what happened. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if, on a larger scale, all those wrong people finally saw the light and abandoned their delusions. Then we could move forward harmoniously together.
That would be good news indeed, but I have even better news. That isn’t what happened. In fact, neither one of the couple has changed their views.
Now why would that be good news? Wouldn’t it be better if the people who tolerated, supported, and encouraged so much harm saw their error? Shouldn’t they either have to apologize or be locked out of the house?
Note well: I am not indulging in both-sides-ism or saying the truth lies somewhere between the two poles. I have made my views on Covid issues plain for all to see. Furthermore, I think it is important that we learn from our mistakes, remove from positions of trust those who have abused it, and reform or abolish systems that allow harm to continue. And yes, of course I want the beliefs underneath those systems to change, and I will continue to work toward that goal. However, there is something that comes before all that.
The couple got back together because they chose to put love higher than their disagreements.
Will we, like they, welcome those who occupy a different belief-universe back into the family?
Here is one thing that should be obvious: decent, compassionate people predominate on all sides of the Covid wars. Notwithstanding caricatures to the contrary, most pro-vaxxers are not stupefied sheep, and most vaccine skeptics are not frothing ignoramuses. Enter each of those universes (mainstream and dissident) and it seems almost inconceivable that an intelligent, moral person could occupy the other; yet, it is so.
Here is a paradox: when we put love first and demote to lower priority making the other party change their mind, the other party will be more likely to change their mind. Doing so becomes no longer an act of capitulation and submission. One’s dignity need not accompany one’s opinions on the sacrificial platter. The argument becomes no longer a contest of wills or a struggle for domination.
This is especially important because, in a contest of wills, the most likely result is compromise. The pandemic will have been wasted if the result is a new status quo somewhere between pre-Covid normal and the new normal of techno-pharmaco-politico-corporate authoritarianism. So please do not misunderstand me to mean that we simply forget all this ever happened. There are deep wrongs to be righted. Covid has laid bare the mechanisms of abusive power, shown us the direction we’ve been heading, and revealed latent social ills that may now be healed.
A big reckoning is coming. Yet let’s please hold in view the end goal that we serve: to welcome all as divine members of the human family. There may be conflicts along the way, but we must recognize that victory in a conflict is never the final solution. Nor can we serve our true goal by temporarily dehumanizing the enemy as a tactic of war, with the idea of rehumanizing them after victory is ours. No. The way we behave right now prefigures the future that shall be.
I’m sure that each of the German couple has a lot to forgive the other. So it is also in our society. Many people have done others wrong. However, having wrong beliefs is not among those misdeeds.
Let the following not be mere spiritual slogans. Let the following be real:
We hold our human brothers and sisters in loving welcome.
We put healing above victory.
We put reunion above vindication.
We allow no one to violate the dignity and sovereignty of others. And we will hate no one for having done that.
We will insist that the wrongdoing stop. STOP! And we will not demand anyone admit they have done wrong.
We will remove those who have abused our trust from power, and we will cleanse the corruption from systems of power. And we will not punish the abusers.
This last one is the hardest for most people to accept. I say it because I foresee as plain as the rising sun a choice that approaches us. Someday, we will have to choose between the satisfaction of punishment, and making the wrongdoing stop. It may seem those two are often one and the same—deterrence, setting an example, and all that—but they are not always the same, and someday each of us will have to choose which we shall serve. What does justice look like, divorced from punishment? What does accountability look like, disentangled from rewards and penalties? What does apology look like, distinct from submission? These are the questions that must come alive if we are to regroup the human family.
Charles Eisenstein is a public speaker and author. Stay up-to-speed with his work via his website, or subscribe to his Substack mailing list for weekly essays and musings.