I’ve spent the better part of this year arguing with vaccine-hesitant friends on social media. I’ve thrown them peer-reviewed articles, clear-cut statistics, and plenty of logic — but none of this is helping. That’s because people are not likely to change their views during a conflicting argument. Instead, they dig themselves deeper.
The fact is, we don’t like being wrong; it’s just not a nice feeling. And much of this stems from our power-driven egos, as Guy Winch (Ph.D.) explained in Psychology Today:
“Some people have such a fragile ego, such brittle self-esteem, such a weak ‘psychological constitution,’ that admitting they made a mistake or that they were wrong is fundamentally too threatening for their egos to tolerate,” Guy Winch said.
“Accepting they were wrong, absorbing that reality, would be so psychologically shattering, their defense mechanisms do something remarkable to avoid doing so — they literally distort their perception of reality to make it (reality) less threatening.”
Guy’s examples usually stem from everyday mistakes, like forgetting to buy milk because you thought you had a full bottle in the fridge. Those who truly hate being wrong would make up excuses that make them appear right. Someone must have finished the bottle of milk, they say. I checked this morning before I left!
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why it’s so hard to change the minds of your vaccine-hesitant friends and family. When you argue with them, sharing expert blog posts and peer-reviewed articles that prove vaccines are safe and effective, they throw their own ammo back. And their research falls under what is called confirmation bias. They are selecting research that prove their point, just like you did when you sent them your research. You think they’re stupid for believing in that research and they think the same of you.
It’s a never-ending war.
So, if you want to make your vaccine-hesitant friends get vaccinated, arguing with them is perhaps not the best option. Not unless they respect your views and are willing to admit they are wrong.
But there is another way. One that doesn’t resort to arguing, but is much more effective.
And that’s showing rather than telling.
Let’s Get Personal
One of the starkest truths I learned as a journalist is that we don’t care so much about people outside our own communities. That’s why local news reports on overseas disasters angle their stories with deaths of local people. Australians dead in Bali Tsunami. Americans injured in Beirut explosion. We only care if it affects our own community. And the closer they are to us, the more affected we feel.
This is why the power of getting personal is useful when helping people change their minds. We normalise issues when telling our nearest and dearest, which helps people reconsider their stance.
This effective tactic was used in the Yes campaign for marriage equality in both Ireland and Australia. Political campaigner Tiernan Brady championed the yes vote through a grassroots movement, giving everyday citizens the opportunity to tell their stories. And the reason for its efficacy is noted by Cai Wilshaw in Forbes:
“Central to the Yes Equality campaign was a notion that equal marriage, rather than being framed as “gay or god”, could be framed as true to core Irish family values,” Cai wrote.
“By meeting people where they are, and allowing LGBT+ to be spokespeople in their own communities, the campaign became about personal human stories — making people true supporters by focusing not on the ‘philosophy of equality […] but on Mark, and Janice, and Margaret’.”
Conversely, if a fully vaccinated person were to talk about their positive experience when getting the vaccine and how much freer they feel, this gives vaccine-hesitant people the opportunity to view this issue in an emotional (rather than objective) way. It’s also much more potent if the person is a close friend or cherished family member.
This means that if you want to stop vaccine-hesitancy among your friends and family, the better option is to show them that they work rather than tell them. Talk about how you feel — not just about being healthy, but also being happy. Being free. Being part of the solution to end this nasty pandemic.
In other words: it’s time to get personal. Share photos of getting vaccinated. Write positive stories about how you feel. Be personal.
And remember, you don’t have to change everyone’s views. Just one is enough. In fact, it’s better than nothing.