We Americans are awfully fond of taking a stance, aren't we?
And we should be -- it's important to formulate opinions, to challenge belief systems, to fight complacency, and to open up an inclusive dialogue, whether or not we want to. No great and necessary change has ever come about without someone (or many someones) standing up and making their opinion, however unpopular, known. We take individual stances because we live in a country where we have that luxury, and that responsibility.
It's important to take a stance and, yet, we must ask ourselves at what point merely "taking a stance" is more of a detriment to society than an expression of one's personal and independent beliefs. When is taking a stance something other, something more maleficent, than using one's voice because something truly needs to be said?
This could apply to any number of issues facing Americans today, but one of our nation's latest points of contention is the notorious "anti-vaxxer" movement that has proliferated in recent years. I don't need to get into how dangerous not vaccinating our children is for everyone, perhaps most of all immunocompromised children. I don't need to get into how selfish, regressive, and expensive it is choosing not to vaccinate our children and I don't need to get into the completely baseless rumor that vaccination has anything to do with autism (which is in fact not a death sentence as so many anti-vaxxers would have us believe).
I don't need to get into the data, the statistics, or the plain, hard facts that most supporters of the anti-vaxxer movement seem to deliberately overlook.
All these issues must be continuously addressed, but there is something perhaps even more disturbing at the root of this movement, as with any similar event we look back on in horror. That is the immense danger of jumping on the bandwagon, of getting carried so far away you forget what it means to fight for your own convictions. The comfort we find among the like-minded is sometimes a dangerous sort of comfort, one from which we can hardly extricate ourselves when things have spiraled out of control, too far out for us to recognize.
There are many arguments against vaccinating, most of which are the result of rampant fear mongering, perpetuated by politicians, by celebrities, by the people around us, by those who choose anecdotes over statistics. As with anything that requires action pertaining to one's own family, people will inevitably exercise their right to do as they please. They will argue, above all else, parents should have the right to make decisions about their kids without interference from any outside party.
Generally, I would agree being able to take an independent stance about one's own children should be taken seriously. Unfortunately those who argue we should keep our vaccines away from their children, because in the end they have the say, are choosing the wrong time to take a stance. Because this time, it's not just about their children and their families. It's about a public health crisis. It's about making a decision that could drastically alter the course of that child's life. It's the ultimate clash of biology and human rights -- no amount of "keep your laws off my children" activism can change that simple fact. People will get dangerously hurt.
This issue is more pressing than ever as anti-vaxxers appear singlehandedly responsible for keeping diseases circulating in our country that were at some point nearly eradicated. How do we disrupt the momentum of something so dangerous as the anti-vaxxer movement?
We start with the bystanders. We urge them: If you decide to take a stance, make sure you have enough information to stand by it with conviction. If you can't, no one will judge you for admitting you were wrong.