Right now we are in the eye of the storm of the pandemic and we are running through the tools we have available to us.
Government messaging has become blunted over time.
Language needs looking at, too.
The situation is not ‘challenging’. A Rubik’s Cube is challenging. It is 70,000 dead and that, my friends, needs more direct language.
I was listening to BBC Radio 4 when Professor Stephen Reacher, of the University of St Andrews’ school of Psychology and Neuroscience was interviewed.
We are communicating this all wrong, he said.
In a British Medical Journal blog he advances the research that most people are sticking to the rules. He goes onto say that reporting individual acts of minor transgressions just builds a picture where EVERYONE is playing fast and loose with the rules.
Aside from being inaccurate, he said, it has the dangerous affect of normalising not sticking to the rules and it allows people to decide to more easily break them.
In short, no-one else is doing it, why should I?
On BBC Radio 4 Today he explained his position further:
A lot of time we see headlines about people breaking the rules and we see politicians saying to people: ‘Look, it’s up to you. You’ve got to obey the rules.’ Of course, everyone does need to obey the rules. We’ve all got to take responsibility for it but it’s not there that the problem lies.
“If you look at all the evidence it shows by and large most people are to a very high degree obeying the rules. It’s about 80 or 90 per cent and that’s stayed pretty constant throught the pandemic.
“The problem is we imply the public is the weak link when the evidence shows we’re not. The reason why it is counter-productive is two fold. Firstly, if you tell people ‘everyone is doing this, stop it’ what you communicate is ‘everyone is doing it.’ You set a ‘negative norm’ and people think ‘everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?’
“The second thing is, if we are going to get through this pandemic it’s got to be as a partnership between the Government and the public. Government have got to support the public and the public has got to go along with what the Government asks of them. If you blame people you break that partnership Government starts to be seen as ‘them’ and their influence starts to drop.”
Professor Reicher added that reporting focusses on the abnormal not the normal wshen what we needed are ‘dramatic stories of compliance’.
The next day the Today programme featured some of those stories.
A couple who have taken to playing Scrabble via Zoom, for example.
Or Richard from Lincolnshire. He spoke of the funeral for his wife Sheila who passed away during lockdown of a non-COVID issue. There was no Wake and no thanking the 30 who attended.
Petra spoke of her Christmas plans being changed and the service station was full of people exchanging large bags of presents at a safe distance.
It makes me think of the deep well of stories that are out there and how it would be good to see them played out.