Regan Duff is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Information Systems and Operations Management, at the University of Auckland Business School.
This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.
Rather than battling the so-called ‘lockdown fatigue’, New Zealanders might look to reframe our current predicament as one of opportunity and resilience testing, as opposed to one that challenges our personal liberties and self- expression. For example, the simple facemask has emerged as one of the most divisive symbols of the present health crisis. However, through a subtle shift in framing, a symbol that to some brings about notions of fear and compliance, could instead be reframed as the symbol of solidarity and kindness that we can all show towards our ‘team of five million’.
The importance of top-down leadership and science during a public health crises.
Research into crisis management supports the role that political leaders, scientific experts and media personalities play in influencing behaviour. Fortunately, central figures, institutions and media commentators in New Zealand have embraced science over sensationalism. In particular, the science of epidemiology offers considerable insight into the current public health crisis. However, epidemiology does not fully capture the complex digitally connected world we live in, where peripheral factors such as social contagion and leadership can both help and hinder traditional medical interventions.
The importance of bottom-up community and social dynamics during a public health crises.
As the disparity of successful interventions around the world illustrates, achieving full compliance on any one intervention does not guarantee population health and well-being. Research into social norms suggests that normative behaviours are always undergoing some form of evolution – for better or for worse. In particular, Elinor Ostrom’s work on common pool resources suggests that under the right conditions, community-led approaches might be more effective than top-down measures in solving the masked version of the tragedy of the commons. Therefore, in order to better leverage the social network effects already in play, New Zealand might proactively engage communities in the design and implementation of bottom-up solutions, such as how to make, wear and champion the humble, yet incredibly effective facemask.
Lessons in solidarity, kindness, forgiveness and love
Humans are first and foremost social beings. As such, we learn best by observing and imitating one another. Individual’s level actions send powerful signals to entire communities and greatly influence macro level phenomena such as public health. An example of how this applies to masking is the Czech Republic #Masks4all movement, which combined both fun and solidarity within a grassroots social media campaign. Through leveraging the ingenuity of homegrown sewing enthusiasts and the collective spirit of media personalities, within just a few days the republic was able to move beyond both their supply chain issues and cultural hang ups around masking. New Zealand is already famous for its Number 8 wire mentality, therefore we might do well to build our very own homegrown movement around masking. By encouraging public personalities, leadership and community to join forces in a spirit of solidarity, we can send a powerful signal to our international fraternity that we Kiwis are in fact an emphatic partner in the global fight against Covid-19.
People inherently want to do good. Especially during times of crisis, the idea of being kind to others resonates deeply. New Zealand psychologist, Niki Harré speaks of the importance of framing existential-like challenges in positive terms through highlighting ‘tales of joy’, rather than ‘tales of terror’. Fortunately, our government has already incorporated notions of “being kind” into their public health messaging. In practical terms, during the first lockdown New Zealanders responded positively to both the Teddy bears in the window and the ‘stand at dawn’ Anzac celebration. As long as the threat of Covid-19 prevails, the debate around masking is likely to continue. To provide a fresh perspective to this debate, instead of pitting personal liberties against the public good, we might do well to frame the wearing of masks as a collective act of kindness.
Historically, during health crises, societies have often resorted to scapegoating others as a means of discharging all kinds of fears, hatreds and tensions. Conspiracy theories against masking provide a modern-day example of this type of scapegoating. Fortunately, New Zealand has, on the whole, not succumbed to this tactic and our approach has so far prioritised empathy and kotahitanga as a way of navigating the present health crisis. To further extend this approach, individuals, communities and government bodies might do well to embrace the practice of forgiveness and empathy for others. As a starting point, this practice might entail looking for opportunities to forgive ourselves and others even when we are deeply disappointed at a particular aspect of the crisis. The regular practice of forgiveness creates the conditions for individuals and communities to leverage the ancient wisdom of the golden rule: “doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you”.
Even prior to Covid-19, New Zealanders demonstrated their immense sense of fortitude following the attacks against humanity which took place in Christchurch on 15 March 2019. In the immediate days that followed, the world witnessed an outpouring of love from the hearts of politicians, public figures and the New Zealand people as a whole. New Zealand’s sense of community and its focus on solidarity in times of crisis signalled to the world that through love, we can conquer even the most dire adversities. Due to our relative success on the global stage in dealing with Covid-19, New Zealand is well placed to summon our team of five million to come together and share our aroha with the world. The simple act of donning a mask thus becomes a behavioural trace of our individual and collective intention to express our love for humanity. Despite the harrowing threat of the global health crisis, New Zealand thus becomes a beacon of light for a world engulfed in darkness.
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