Our Minds Aren’t Equipped for This Kind of Reopening,The Atlantic, July 6 2020, Tess Wilkinson-Ryan
Helping ourselves to make the right choices
“Reopening is a mess. Photographs of crowds jostling outside bars, patrons returning to casinos, and a tightly packed, largely maskless audience listening to President Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore all show the U.S. careening back to pre-coronavirus norms. Meanwhile, those of us watching at home are like the audience of a horror movie, yelling “Get out of there!” at our screens. As despair rises, the temptation to shame people who fail at social distancing becomes difficult to resist.
But Americans’ disgust should be aimed at governments and institutions, not at one another. Individuals are being asked to decide for themselves what chances they should take, but a century of research on human cognition shows that people are bad at assessing risk in complex situations. During a disease outbreak, vague guidance and ambivalent behavioral norms will lead to thoroughly flawed thinking. If a business is open but you would be foolish to visit it, that is a failure of leadership.”
Through the WI lens
Everyone knew that coming out of lockdown would be hard. It has proved exactly that – on both sides of the Atlantic. And it’s not just those big calls that authorities have to make when deciding which amenities to reopen first, or how far individual social distancing measures should be relaxed at each stage of the process.
For individuals, too, making the right personal judgements is fraught with doubt and anxiety as we each decide which risks are worth taking and who is putting the herd in danger through their reckless behaviour and moral abdication. This article – from an academic who specialises in the psychology of judgement and decision making – highlights the hazard of making such choices, and how the seemingly correct answer can sometimes be swayed by how the question is framed in the first place. Even our cognitive abilities – how far away from that other person am I? – can be distorted by the context, with a human tendency to over-estimate our own compliance and under-estimate that of others.
The lesson is that public messages need to be crystal clear; it is no good blaming people for making bad choices when the fault is that they are presented with bad choices in the first place. Failure to do this will wreak psychological damage and societal disharmony. It can all be avoided by marking those two metre gaps on the pavement and being equally objective and clinical in how people are instructed across the piece. We need a society in which people are pulling together towards a common aim – not one in which we are pulling ourselves, and each other, apart. Our hope ( and plea) is that both government and citizens use the wellness industry as their protective frontline partner. The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in a global shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”