What is your goal in belittling a deadly disease?

Today I’m taking a quick break from my Closer look at Luke posts to write about something that’s been on my heart and mind throughout this pandemic.

In scrolling through social media, I have friends who espouse both conservative and liberal views. As you might expect, most fall under the traditional demographic markers for such political affiliations. And the political posts can be heated and frustrating.

However, during the past few months I’ve seen something that breaks my heart, and it continues to this day. I see people who I know from personal experience to be tremendously loving Christians posting memes, videos, and stories (often from less-than-reputable sources, but that’s a different issue I’ve written about before) belittling the disease and the efforts people are taking to fight it and survive.

These posts include videos of masks being made in unsanitary conditions, memes with false or highly misleading data comparisons, and screenshots of news reports with typos in the chyron. The goal seems to be clearly belittling the pandemic, claiming it’s a hoax (at least on some level) and mocking efforts of people to stay safe and keep others safe.

However, such goals do not align even slightly with what I know of the people posting them, and that’s why I have to ask why? What is the goal? What are you hoping to achieve?

Here’s my honest feedback on how such posts make you appear to others, and like I said, it completely contradicts the character I’ve seen in you in person. It makes you look heartless. It looks like you’re mocking people who are afraid of a sickness that has already killed in just a few months more Americans than the Vietnam War killed in 20 years.

It makes you look like you lack empathy. And as more people are infected and die from this disease, your posts will reach those who have been affected. I am so thankful that I have not lost anyone close to me to this disease, and I pray that I am still that blessed when this all concludes (as I pray for everyone, even knowing it won’t be true for many). But if, for example, my mother who is part of the most vulnerable population due to both age and prior health issues (that she’s bravely battled and won) were to contract this and die, and I in my mourning saw posts from you belittling this disease, spreading misinformation, or mocking people trying to stay safe and protect others, it would destroy our relationship. I would likely never speak to you again.

That’s just my personal response; I don’t know how others would respond. But I can’t imagine many would feel good about seeing your mocking of their pain. And whether or not you are serious with these posts, that is the message that comes across.

One of the hardest things for us as humans to grasp is that in communication what matters is the message received and not the message sent. Intent doesn’t matter when you speak; what the other person hears is what matters. It is on the speaker to ensure the message they’re truly seeking to convey comes across. We’ve long allowed in our society such responses as “that’s not what I meant,” and “you took it the wrong way,” but if our message leaves any chance for such things, we’re failing in our messaging. And whether or not we like it, if someone interprets something we say as mocking their pain, that is on us to do everything we can to correct it.

That’s why I’ve never understood the right-wing desire to continue using language other demographics deem offensive. Regardless of whether it “used to be offensive,” if anyone is hurt by the language you’re using, and you openly continue to use that language, so you realize how cruel you are choosing to be? You know it hurts someone, and yet you continue to do it. At that point, regardless of if you previously intended offense, you are by definition meaning to offend with your continued use.

But even that’s a side conversation to the main point. Even if you doubt the full numbers of deaths caused by this disease, belittling its toll and impact comes across as deeming none of the deaths worth mourning. It comes across as mocking people’s pain, all seemingly for a political purpose. It is cruel. Imagine your parent or spouse dying from cancer, and as you’re in mourning you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and see memes with misleading stats claiming cancer isn’t really a problem or videos meant to suggest the tools used to treat cancer are unsanitary. Imagine being told the whole thing is a hoax and politically motivated. Imagine the pain you would feel.

Since I know the people I continue to see on Facebook doing this are incredibly loving Christians and proudly pro-life, I feel compelled to ask why they feel a need to do this? Please take a step back and consider the message you’re truly sending to the people around you, many of whom will lose someone they care about (if they haven’t already) due to this disease.

The entire claim of “pro-life” is that life of the most vulnerable must be protected. I’ve written about that before, as well. Even if you doubt the total number of the death count, isn’t any death a tragedy? Isn’t it devastating to see any of “the least of these” being caught by a disease we’re not prepared for and their life suddenly snuffed out? Aren’t they worth saving? If not, how can we claim to be pro-life?

It breaks my heart that a pandemic that has already killed more than 65,000 Americans – and far more worldwide – has been abused as a political tool rather than seen as a common foe we can all work together to beat and help others beat. But I can’t do anything about that.

What I can do is raise this honest question with the people I see on my feed posting things that belittle the pain of others. What are you hoping to achieve?


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