April 17, 2021

Has Covid-19 Broken the Agility Community?

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Many dog agility folks have been unpleasantly surprised by the reactions to Covid-19 from their peers. Social media has given us a window into each other’s minds and we don’t always like what we see. These negative views on specific people in agility can be easily generalized to the activity itself, leaving people wondering if they even want to stay in the sport. 

If you feel this way, what can you do?

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First, you can acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is very common and completely normal.

In a very helpful article called “Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, the CDC explains that “Providing care to others during the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and other strong emotions.” Symptoms of stress include (taken from the article): 

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Feeling helpless or powerless
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

We’ve all experienced these symptoms at some point in our lives, but Covid-19 has put an incredible amount of stress on everyone over a sustained period of time and we all react differently to this stress.

I know that when I’m stressed out and angry, I tend to find something or someone to blame. Many of us are blaming our agility peers for either underreacting or overreacting to the Covid-19 threat.

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Second, you can understand that how people react to extreme stress usually makes sense.

In a YouTube video called “What are COVID-deniers thinking?” Colin MacLeod, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Australia, points out that “denial is a means of managing anxiety.” We are all experiencing anxiety and grief about our lost way of life. Remember Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief? Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Everyone is at a different stage here with respect to Covid-19.

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Third, you can know that attitudes toward the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States strongly correlate with political views.

I suspect much of the angst over Covid-19 is actually a continuation of the growing political divide between conservatives and progressives in this country, and this divide is most easily seen on social media, specifically Facebook because it’s the preferred social media platform for the dog agility community.

This published study used the geotracking data of 15 million cell phones per day and found that counties that voted Republican in 2016 showed 14% less physical distancing between March and May 2020.

“Partisanship was more strongly associated with physical distancing than numerous other factors, including counties’ COVID-19 cases, population density, median income, and racial and age demographics.”

This article notes that 13 percent of Americans think that the coronavirus probably or definitely isn’t real. From the article: “But in what seems to be a parallel universe live people who doubt that COVID-19 exists at all. Some believe that it is a myth created by some powerful forces or non-existent government agency, while others understand that it exists, but think its effects have been greatly exaggerated. They see masks as a form of oppression, a symbol of weakness, and try to live their lives as they always have.”

Dr. Emma Frances Bloomfield of UNLV notes that responses to Covid-19 have become politicized. “People think that their party loyalty should determine whether they wear masks or not. We’re substituting scientific expertise with politics.”

Mad about Clinton losing in 2016? Blame conservatives for the over half million Covid-19 deaths in this country. Mad about Trump losing in 2020? Blame progressives for making too big a deal of Covid-19 and causing unnecessary job losses. Either way, our views on Covid-19 are profoundly affected by our political and social opinions.

If your strong emotions are based more on political differences, remember that whether you are progressive or conservative, elections are not won or lost in the agility ring. You can participate in agility and still be politically active. 

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Fourth, you can realize that interacting with someone socially, at work, at Thanksgiving, or at an agility trial does not mean that you agree with them or support their views.

As a physician I have worked alongside some of the best and worst people in healthcare. I’ve cared for nice people and mean people, the rich and the poor, Republicans and Democrats. In order for society to function, there has to be a large amount of cooperation and commitment to public welfare. You don’t have to agree with someone’s politics to set their bars, video their run, or applaud their efforts.

You don’t have to interact with them at all, but before you leave the sport entirely, remember that whichever side of the issue you are on, you’re probably not alone. People think of Texas as very conservative, and Trump did carry the state with 52.1% of the vote (5.8 million). Still, more than 5.2 million Texans (46.5%) voted for Biden.

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Fifth, you can avoid making assumptions about the beliefs of other people, even if you think you know what they are based on their social media presence.

It’s easy to share things on social media. There’s a strong element of peer pressure and a host of psychological factors that affect how we interact with each other on Facebook. Social media is not typically a place for in depth analysis, careful discussion, or gray areas. Increasingly, it’s a way for us to be manipulated by other people with agendas that don’t necessarily coincide with our own.

Shaming fellow competitors on social media is a form of positive punishment that can have fallout on our community. Many agility folks have become too scared to share their opinions about anything in public anymore.

There are plenty of conservatives who are staunchly pro-mask wearing and applaud the efforts of agility folks to keep trials and training safe. There are also plenty of progressives who can’t be bothered to alter their own behaviors for the sake of others. There’s a spectrum of behavior with respect to Covid-19 and it’s not as black and white as our brains want us to think. It’s easy to fall into confirmation bias when we see someone at an agility trial flout Covid-19 rules but for the most part people care about each other and follow the rules. Understanding this will give you back some compassion you’ve lost for “the other side.”

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Sixth, you can remember that our love of both dogs and agility is the common ground that binds us together as a community.

How do you bring people who disagree together? You give them a problem that they can solve together. Like an agility course. 

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Finally, make the effort to figure out exactly what bothers you about your current situation and then address it directly.

Does dog agility still bring you joy? Then don’t let anyone keep you away from it. You don’t need approval or validation of your personal or political views from people outside of your immediate circle (and sometimes, not even the people closest to you). You can trial one weekend and march in a protest on another. You can stay home for a year or two and come back to the sport when you are vaccinated and the pandemic is under control. Or you can decide to accept your risk and participate in a way that’s safest for you and those around you. 

Either way, your attitude toward the sport should be defined by YOU rather than the actions and beliefs of others.

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