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?
“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.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.
This is not the testimony of any ordinary victim of Covid-19, but that of virologist Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and one of the scientists who discovered Ebola back in 1976.
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