icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.


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Aloof from the bickering, close to the core

About changing bubbles or remaining friends during the pandemic

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Aloof from the bickering, close to the core About changing bubbles or remaining friends during the pandemic. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 9.9 (September). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-9.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Aloof from the bickering, close to the core About changing bubbles or remaining friends during the pandemic. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 9.9 (September). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-9.html

London, 9 September - Almost nine months on, the pandemic still dominates the worldwide public opinion. I confess I am exasperated with the constant news of a loosing battle against the virus.

In particular, I have been surprised by a general lack of focus on what matters reflected by the behaviour of many acquaintances. I have considered what else could be done and said in the context of public health policies.

The substance of the remedies available is pretty much known since long. The message “head face space” could not be clear. But there are difference among Countries and cultures that impact the number of deaths, the national policies and the statistics. These do not have any influence on the ultimate solution that consists, everywhere in the world, in isolation and self-isolation.

In the UK there is a general expectation that the rule of law can help further and this creates further polarisation and instrumental political ding-dongs. On one side, those that want everybody to abide by the Covid-19 regulations at all costs. On the other, those who cannot wait another opportunity to break the rules and get away with it - often totally unnoticed. Both sides accusing the other of confused messages and disinformation.

The privilege of knowledge or risk awareness?

Why is it so difficult to adapt interactions, adjust gestures and postures, step back and stay at a physical distance, wear face coverings, make more frequent use of hands soap - while there are large territories in the world where people are unable to wash their hands anytime anywhere, as we can freely do in many western countries as often as we need or wish?

It does not seem a matter of education or socio demographic status. The problem reminds me debates in the early 1980s between officials and librarians about the best policies to promote reading. Such debates tend to conclude that some seem keen on reading, others do not. But then at the last minute, again, new evidence of the education argument kicks in. The discussion restarts, again and again.

One hypothesis is that beneath the apparent difficulties in public understanding of scientific advice (still an immature field of professional practices, I will say more on this in another forthcoming article of this magazine) there is actually a genuine lack of familiarity with the notion of risk: people tend to misbehave or to act irrationally and impulsively when their mind doesn’t figure out any link between such conduct and possible negative consequences. But I concede that there is no notion of risk that really counts when people feel the pressurising imperative of social cohesion, top-down orders or emotional and physical need to have intimate contacts. In sum, the risk awareness hypothesis is valid as long as the contexts in which it is tested do not change.

Once you have understood what are the risks for yourself, for your family and your community and for the society at large, Covid-19 is nothing to panic about or to be blasé about. Life would be much easier for everybody if we all behave as instructed, exercising personal judgement in all the situations in which lack of hygiene or excessive crowding increase the risk of spreading the virus. It is not a complex message to deliver or to get, independently from the official government policies or specific pandemic legislation!

And again, no matter the language and style of communications they have been targeted with (what an amazing public spending in advertising, by the way!), I see young middle class mothers pushing buggies in the park at 7am wearing totally unnecessary face masks and people of all ages standing in queues with no masks at all and no effort to respect physical distancing measures. One young bloke teased me in a shop saying that it is actually very good for people to get closer. How amusing! Another neighbour turned to me quite aggressively saying that I would not dare to talk to her like that if she was not a black woman, would I?, as I suggested we should all wear masks in a queue. Oh dear - no, this lady had no evident or declared reason to be exempt from the obvious convenience of face coverings in queues with little physical distancing possible.

In sum, I am very often for making new rules and reviewing the existing ones but there are circumstances, like the current health emergency, in which we just have to comply with the existing rules or the most advised behavioural guidance. We should see how to change ourselves more than change the world.

Seeking help from research about PTSD

Perhaps there is something wrong with me being rationale and exercising common sense? At the end of the day I have to admit I am not a very common type of person! Or is for my background in classics?

I tend to see the positive side of things and to organise choices around feasible tasks. Even when I am in terrible pain and distressed I try to concentrate on “tomorrow is another day” and see how I can end the day in the best possible way and have a good sleep. Perhaps I see the world in ways that other people find difficult to get because I suffered from PTSD in the past. I have learned the lesson of choosing life over death as much as we can possibly do.

What I would like to suggest to those who are in a position of power of influence or directions on other people lives, is to consider if anything can be learned from recent research on PTSD. It is a common mantra associated to PTSD to say that what does not kill you makes you stronger. In 2011 a psychology and social care professor, Stephen Joseph, published a book to document what he had actually found in dozens and dozens of cases confirming such mantra (1).

Joseph often uses the metaphor of the shattered vase and references to Piaget, Ortega, Rogers and other authors to discuss his findings that are encouraging for everybody, not only for people who have gone through extremely difficult experiences. Through processes of assimilation and accommodation, that can be taught and learned at any age, that special skill to always be able to see the positive side of things is available to all of us. Assimilating experiences - he writes in one of his following blog posts - may be more comfortable as it does not require us to change. But if we seek a fully functioning life we must embrace the principle of accommodation and be open to the truth about ourselves no matter how much we don’t like to hear it. (2)

Conclusion

The conquest of influenza lies in the future - was writing in March 1929 a journalist, Watson Davies, in "The Sphere". The magazine reported on the first London's inhalatorium, a method of combating the influenza epidemic that was tested at the time by the British Humane Society. Today it seems absolutely hilarious! But this is exactly the nature of scientific knowledge. The scarcity of details about the cure, and the style of the piece, is an indicator of the doubts it was possibly surrounded with. Taking good care of one's health in epidemic times is probably the best insurance against the disease. Robinson Crusoe on a desert island might be spared from a world pandemic of influenza - Watson Davies concluded - provided he were not visited by his man Friday.

Almost a century on, it seems neither the scientists nor the public opinion at large have made too much progress in finding a cure for the pandemic flu. But at least we have more evidence that managing the risks of spreading the virus is really a matter of public understanding of scientific knowledge.

References

Joseph, S. (2011), What doesn't kill us: The new psychology of post-traumatic growth. Basic Books.

Joseph, S. (2012), The Metaphor of the Shattered Vase. One lesson from trauma to help us live wisely, psychologytoday.com, May 21. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201205/the-metaphor-the-shattered-vase

Davis, W. (1929), Unsolved by science - The 'Flu, The Sphere, 2 March, p. 364. Retrieved from the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) database