By Kwesi P. Dean
Posted October 26, 2020
He has always been contrary.
He’s one of the most intellectually curious people I know. He taught himself to speak German by reading a scientific textbook and looking up and logging the words and phrases he didn’t know, page by page, until he finished the book. Disciplined, he pursues his interests through reading, observation and conversation, all the while not taking himself or others too seriously. His talent for languages, he speaks five, and handling people led him to work check-in and customer service at a local airport. It was a great place for him to exercise his skills of observation and practice crisis management with a smile with people from all over the world. It’s no wonder that he’s now doing that as a social worker for his adopted country.
A secret to his success has always been looking right when people tell him to look left. He’s great at finding new ways of thinking about situations and new possibilities with his clients. He’s effective because he finds solutions that work both for his clients and the agency instead of covering his ass with endless orders about what people must do. I think my fellow immigrants who get to work with him are lucky.
From the beginning, we talked about watching the spread of Covid-19 like being stuck on the tracks with a slow moving train heading our way. Having to deal with it was inevitable and neither of us knew what that would mean. We knew it could change everything. We didn’t know it would change us.
Just as soon as we started to get information about the virus and its spread, a number of medical doctors and scientists started to offer their take on what was happening and what should or shouldn’t be done. They weren’t offering research, they weren’t publishing in peer reviewed journals. They were going straight to the public through social media to make their pronouncements with a political agenda. My friend found many alternate views from these doctors that fit his need to find something contrary to the government and big media line. It was Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory in practice. Like an itch he couldn’t scratch, the notion that something seemed off about the government line wouldn’t go away. He felt he was being lied to. He couldn’t accept the uncertainty nor the limits he felt on his freedom.
It started with him forwarding me videos of Covid denier doctors. All of them had a similar pattern, great sounding questions followed by unfounded answers that would lead to more great sounding questions. It was like watching a “documentary” about ancient aliens. Underneath it all was the notion that someone is doing this to us for some reason.
At first, I would point out all of the logical problems in the videos, thanks to Carl Sagan, and justify going along with social distancing as the most responsible thing to do in an uncertain situation. As I debunked one source, there was always another. I soon realized that no amount of logic was going to satisfy him. The belief that the situation isn’t right wouldn’t go away. Science and logic, with all of their hypotheses, alternatives and maybes will never beat the comfort of a firmly held belief.
The biggest collective, emotional event our generation has ever experienced soon became something we couldn’t talk about anymore.
It is an effort to talk to him now as we steer clear of the pandemic. Luckily, there is plenty to talk about and there is also a third rail in our conversations that wasn’t there before. Recently, talking about what I miss about concerts and dancing led to a lecture that echoed Donald Trump’s advice to not let the virus change my life. He accused me of living in fear and something broke between us.
The pandemic will pass, eventually. Will our relationships heal? I don’t know and I can live with that.