The brave teenager who angered his anti-vaxxer parents by self-vaccinating testified before Congress about his decision.

It’s extremely difficult to change the minds of people who believe vaccinations cause autism or brain damage because of a psychological concept known as cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the tendency for people to accept facts that fit their existing beliefs and see cause-and-effect that doesn’t exist, like the nonexistent link between an MMR shot and signs of autism.

Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old high school senior from Norwalk, Ohio, never received shots for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), chickenpox, or even polio, because of his parents views.


Realizing that he would never change them, he got vaccinated against their wishes.

His decision first caught the public’s attention in November 2018 when he posted about it on Reddit. “My parents are kind of stupid and don't believe in vaccines. Now that I'm 18, where do I go to get vaccinated?" the post was titled.

"As the title explains, my parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme,” he wrote. “It’s stupid and I've had countless arguments over the topic. But, because of their beliefs I've never been vaccinated for anything, god knows how I'm still alive."

"But, i'm a senior in high school now with a car, a license, and money of my own," he continued. "I'd assume that I can get them on my own but I've just never had a conversation with anyone about the subject.”

Lindenberger’s decision was a “slap in the face” to his mother who said she did not immunize him because "it was the best way to protect him and keep him safe,” she told Undark.

On Tuesday, March 5, Lindenberger testified before Congress at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions about his decision to self-vaccinate.

“As a child, it intrigued me that people disagreed with my mom about vaccines,” Lindenberger told the panel. “My decision to get myself vaccinated was based on the health and safety of myself and other people, so I approached my family physician who encouraged me to get vaccinated,” he said.

He also spoke out on why people choose to believe unscientific information. “Many people don’t resonate well with data and numbers – they resonate better through stories,” he told the panel.

“We see that with the anti-vaccine community. A lot of the foundation they build with parents is on an anecdotal level, sharing stories and experiences," he continued. "That speaks volumes to people because it reaffirms, especially for my mom, that her position is correct.”

Lindenberger’s brave decision to take his health into his own hands and speak out are important. The more people who understand the psychological mechanisms that lead people to believe dangerous and unscientific information, the less people will fall for conspiracies such as the anti-vaxxer movement.

Heroes

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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