Paul Wesslund

What Do You Say to A COVID Denier? Nothing

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My niece will save our country.

She’s a nurse, but she’s not our salvation for the reason you’d first think.

She works in her hospital’s acute rehab unit but lately has been covering coronavirus treatment floors because they’ve gotten so busy and overwhelmed. She posted on social media about a patient who didn’t believe he had COVID-19. Here’s what she did:

A nurse's pen set, a gift idea for your first responder from Work The Metal in Louisville.
For a nurse being driven crazy by taking care of a COVID denier, this set of pens from Work The Metal in Louisville might help

She took care of him.

The process of taking care of coronavirus patients is a scary and grueling one. The threat of exposure to a deadly virus is just the beginning. It also means scrubbing and disinfecting and getting into stifling layers of protective gear, going to work, then scrubbing and disinfecting back out.

Heroic as all that caregiving is, that’s not the biggest thing that will save us—instead, it’s the example she sets. Rather than lecturing, which she sure wanted to, she did her job.

Oh she’s definitely adamant about the importance of mask-wearing and distancing. But at the hospital, even when the patient is a covid denier, the care she gives speaks louder than any words.

Every day the evidence mounts that we’re hopelessly in hate with each other. Reach out to the other side, we’re told, try to understand them. I’ve preached that myself, but I’m despairing.

A study found that two in five of us think the country would be better off if our political opponents just died. We just came through a presidential election in which the winner got the most votes in the nation’s history, and the loser got the second most votes in history. Looking at that glass as half full says voters were engaged and passionate about the future of our country like never before. I’m afraid I’m seeing it half empty—we’re so contemptuous of each other we’ll turn out in record numbers to crush our opponents. 

An essay by a liberal writer who set out to reach out to the other side concluded, don’t do it, it’s not worth the trouble. After deliberately choosing a year of speaking engagements in conservative areas, he found no willingness to find common ground.

You can’t tell anybody anything

There are even people facing death in a hospital who won’t give an inch in acknowledging the doctors and the science that might challenge their world view. My neice’s experience is not unique. Other nurses are facing skeptical patients.

One of my favorite social observers, Andy Warhol, said, “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.”

Or as one of my favorite musicians, Lou Reed, put it in a song about Warhol’s observations, “You can’t tell anybody anything.”

What you can do is be an example.

When my daughter was young and would come home from school with reports of seeing or experiencing meanness or bullying, we would struggle with what to tell her. We regularly stumbled on the only answer that made sense: be a good example.

It’s true that just being an example might not work, but scolding or lecturing never works in real life the way it does in the last 10 minutes of a TV drama.

What made you take a turn for the better in your life? Was it when you were ordered to change your mind? Was it when you were ridiculed or yelled at? Or was it when you said to yourself, “I want to be like that person.”

Be my niece.

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