Choosing connection over polarisation

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This week’s editorial is a little more personal than usual. This week my uncle, Leon McLean, passed away. He was a giant of a man – in height and heart, always friendly, always joking, and always willing to give you a minute (actually, a lot more than a minute) of his time.

COVID-19 has messed with the way we gather as people after someone’s passing; it is challenging to navigate being human and wanting to connect and be close to your loved ones during difficult times. What has given me some sense of connection is finding Leon’s presence online. Within moments of the news of his passing, someone shared his photograph in the Grahamstown Makhanda Facebook group. It was there that how I remembered him was affirmed – other people spoke of this towering man who was kind and generous and made friends wherever he went. People reached out to the family, and while it was not in person, there was still a gathering of people.

The photograph of him on Facebook is where he is donating blood, which he frequently did. That simple sharing of an image of him doing something he cared about connected me to his memory. It also gave me a sense of how to honour his memory because that same day, someone else posted in the Grahamstown Makhanda group that there is currently a critical shortage of blood due to the pandemic. These connections to someone are being made possible through social media platforms.

These connections may not always be in the case of a family member’s passing but could be in celebrating the efforts of our local sports teams or community projects such as the Makhanda Book Dash. Facebook gets a reach that can almost outcompete the local Pick ‘n Pay or hair salon news networks.

But there are some things that folks are not willing to connect with us on, such as their hesitancy to get vaccinated. Since the start of August, Rod and I have been asking our readers to share why they may be hesitant to receive the vaccine. We are trying to get both sides of the story, as we have been asked to do by those commenting on our social media posts. Except for only a handful of comments to posts on Facebook, we have received no responses in our Facebook inbox or our community@grocotts.co.za inbox.

In conversation, this week Rod and I wondered if this had anything to do with perceptions about news and potential worry over having one’s name published as having a view that does not align with the current climate of views. We will try to do this a little differently this week and share a link to a concise survey. No personal information will be collected about you – not your name, not your age, not your gender, and not your contact details. The form is entirely anonymous. If you would like to tell us why you are hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, please let us know by clicking on this link: https://forms.gle/gZK5vBamJv41tL7R8 and completing the survey.

As I’ve written about before, social media puts us at risk of polarisation – us vs them – and what we’re trying to achieve at Grocott’s Mail is a more nuanced understanding of how people engage with issues that impact this community. There is space for your voice, and if you are willing to share, we will listen.

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