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Urology Pearls: Three factors: Truth, trust and tribe

Shahar Madjar, MD

In the last several weeks I have been grappling with a curious question. Why are some people willing to drive hundreds of miles to get vaccinated against Covid-19 while others are adamantly opposed to it? I believe that I have come closer to an answer.

In my mind, this dichotomy of attitudes about the vaccine is rooted in three factors: Truth, Trust and Tribe.

The first factor is truth. The question is ‘What is true and what isn’t?’ Some would claim that the truth is a matter of opinion, of a world-view, and that each of us is entitled to their own opinion, and to their own truth. I may see the truth in one way, and you may see it differently. But for most practical questions, and more specifically for all medical questions, the truth is singular. Think about the following question: Is Covid-19 just as bad as a seasonal flu, or is it more easily transmittable, and more deadly? Or consider another question: are vaccines against Covid-19 safe and effective? These are simple questions with definite, singular answers. Given the right talents, tools, and time, the truth will become evident.

Could you convince someone, anyone, to find truth, and to follow the right path of action by providing true information? Perhaps. But you first have to earn their trust.

Which brings me to the second factor, Trust. The question is “Whom should you trust?’ Social media has allowed almost everyone to air their opinions, or their ‘truths.’ Google ‘Covid-19 vaccine’ and you can find ample information both for and against vaccination. But whom should you trust? A politician? A news media? Your mother-in-law? Perhaps a scientist, or a doctor? Here, I draw from my own experience. I trust a baker to bake my bread, a builder to build my home, and my teachers to help me understand complex subjects. I wouldn’t trust a meteorologist to repair my car transmission any more than a car mechanic to predict a storm. What I mean to say is this: there is a lot to know in every subject. And while nobody can grasp the entirety of any subject, experts can come close. In search of a solution to a difficult problem, such as a pandemic, seek the advice of experts.

Could you convince someone, anyone, to find truth, and to follow the right path of action by leading them in the direction of a trusted expert? Perhaps. But you first have to invite them to join your tribe.

Which brings me to the third and last factor, Tribe. By ‘tribe,’ I mean a group of people who hold similar set of values, share similar interests, or have similar goals and aspirations. Each of us belongs to several different tribes. Belonging to a tribe often means opposing another. Think about the fans of Michigan State Spartans vs the fans of Michigan Wolverines; democrats vs republicans; those who believe in god vs atheists and agnostics; those who believe in science vs those who despise the ‘elites’; those who believe in vaccinations and those who adamantly oppose them. What I mean to say is this: for any particular question, the answer lies not only in what you know and what you are willing to learn, and not only in whom you put your trust, but also to which tribe you belong. It isn’t only a question of information, or mere trust, but a question of identity.

By now, the truth has come to light. Scientists and doctors–using their talents, their sophisticated research tools, and their systems of checks and balances–have been able to show that Covid-19 poses a significant danger to individuals and to societies. The truth had enough time to become evident. Scientists and doctors have also shown that the vaccines are both safe and highly effective. As I am writing to you, 240 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the USA, and 101.3 million Americans are fully vaccinated. Scientists and doctors are doing their best, using the trust they had earned from the public, to convince others to take the vaccine–for within the vaccine lies the promise not just of individual health and freedom, but the key to societal return to normality.

If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, I invite you to consider joining a larger, ever-growing tribe. It is an all-inclusive tribe, and you are already a part of it. It is called humanity.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Aspirus and the author of “Is Life Too Long? Essays about Life, Death and Other Trivial Matters.” Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com.

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