How to Be With Your Anger Towards Anti-Vaxxers
How a story told by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk is helping me navigate the Covid-19 culture wars.
An old friend who I haven’t seen for a while just texted that he isn’t vaccinated, and I lost my shit.
Not to him. I responded that I appreciated him telling me when I asked. And I do appreciate it. But my insides were boiling.
“Just get the vaccine, you f*cking idiot!” I yelled in my apartment.
I have so much anger inside me towards anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. Especially towards politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who are vaccinated but keep challenging the advice of public health experts.
It feels like molten lava flowing up from the pit of my stomach. I just want to hold little Ronnie DeSantis down until he quits squirming and make him do the right thing.
But I don’t know if my friend is an anti-vaxxer or just a little scared or just a little too busy to get around to it. I do know that he’s my friend. I love the guy. I don’t want him to get sick just like I don’t want anyone to get sick.
(And just so you know, I’m not a fan of Big Pharma — or, for that matter, corporate control of health care. We wouldn’t have the vaccines if it weren’t for public research and public funding. Their patents should be waved so that poorer countries can manufacturer their own vaccines.)
So, I’m trying to sit here and “just be with” the anger.
What’s coming up is a memory of when a meditation teacher of mine responded to an angry meditation student during class.
The teacher had just read aloud Thich Nhat Hanh’s story about a young girl who was raped by a pirate. Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who lived through the Vietnam war and who Martin Luther King Jr. once nominated for the Noble Peace Prize.
According to Nhat Hanh, the girl was returning to Vietnam by boat after the U.S. left the country. But after being sexually assaulted, she jumped in the ocean and drowned herself.
“When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate,” Nhat Hanh says. “You naturally take the side of the girl.”
But, he says, when he paused and looked more deeply at his reaction, something shifted.
“I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate … I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we … do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.”
After my meditation teacher read that story, a student became visibly upset. She said there was no way she could feel sympathy for the pirate. She hated him and wished he was dead. She said that the story was letting rapists off the hook.
“There’s room for all of it,” my meditation teacher responded. “For your anger, for the trauma you’ve been through, and for your sympathy, if you can find it.”
There’s room for all of it. That’s what stuck with me.
It’s okay that I’m pissed at my friend. It’s also okay that I feel love and sympathy for him. It’s okay that I want to punch Ron DeSantis in the face. All of my reactions are okay.
That doesn’t mean that if I hung out with my friend I would ignore that he’s unvaccinated. It doesn’t mean that I can’t maintain my boundaries to stay safe. It doesn’t mean that I’m a weak pushover.
As social worker and author Brené Brown says:
“The most compassionate people I’ve interviewed over the past 13 years were absolutely the most boundaried … loving and generous and really straightforward with what’s okay and what’s not okay.”
It means that there’s space for my anger. I have more choices than either being a “nice guy” and suppressing it or acting out in reckless, harmful ways. And don’t we all want a little more choice in our lives?
Hi, I’m Jeremy, a writer, meditation teacher, therapist-in-training, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. Subscribe to my weekly email on how to be more mindful at your job, in your relationships, and when it comes to politics here.
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