Inoculated

This week I had the familiar joy of putting a new piece of theatre up on the school stage, in this case a play called Inoculated which we’d been working on all year. Featuring five superb young actors, it is the story of a student flat during a snap lockdown, where it soon becomes apparent that the stranger sleeping on the couch is an enthusiastic anti-vaxxer. A timely piece, then, although the greater theme was not so much vaccination as the difficulty we seem to encounter when we find ourselves in committed disagreement with those who seem to us to be stubbornly wrong. Trouble is, that’s exactly how we seem to them too, so what to do with such an impasse? Whatever method we choose to bridge the great divide, it seems clear to everybody that shouting abuse at one another isn’t going to get the job done. As one of the characters in the play puts it, winning arguments and changing minds aren’t the same thing at all.

Inoculated ends with the characters at the very least trying to listen to one another. It’s what philosophers refer to as the principle of charity, trying to engage with the strongest form of the other’s argument. I’m happily double vaxxed myself, it just makes sense to me to do that, but that shouldn’t make it impossible to understand why some are often hesitant. It is frightening for many, putting trust in processes and institutions we don’t understand. It is fair to wonder at the speed of the process, and to question the behaviour of the pharmaceutical companies, which has been frequently appalling. Most importantly, I think, it is natural to doubt the benevolence of a society when it has left you feeling isolated, excluded and belittled. As a community, we reap what we sow. The better we have been at creating a coherent, inclusive society that genuinely accepts and celebrates diversity, the more protected we are from the sorts of divisions that can derail lockdowns or vaccination programmes. That we have managed to get most behind the government’s covid response speaks well of the cohesion we do possess, and the struggles we’re having get a few on board speaks eloquently of the work yet to be done. Giving everybody a true sense of being valued and accepted is in itself a powerful kind of inoculation. As a society we created the circumstances in which poverty and hopelessness took hold. It would be a poor response to then blame the dispossessed when they are slow to get with the programme.

And yet, despite the work left to do, we can still be tremendously grateful for all we have achieved during the pandemic. At the beginning of Friday night’s show I remarked that over the last two years, we haven’t had to cancel a single show in our crazy schedule of something like twenty different play seasons in that time. I wonder how many schools around the world could say the same? We don’t know how lucky we are.

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