Who is our COVID19 leader….?
We have heard a lot about ‘being led by the science’ in the last few weeks, which I have assumed is a means of communicating to the great British public that there is certainty and a sure footing on which decisions are being made. To paraphrase, what we seem to be hearing is “we have scientific answers to back up what we’re doing, so ‘don’t panic’”!
But science is a process of exploring the unknown with acknowledged areas of uncertainty. A finding out process where enquiring minds work through complex issues that never seem to stand still. There are often few hard facts when it comes to arriving at firm and conclusive answers, and any blind faith in scientific certainties can close our minds to what’s really going on.
A colleague of mine was early in seeking to understand the progress of the COVID19 epidemic and to model its future trajectory. He started with great hope in finding certainty in the face of the looming threats of the disease. But gradually he realised that the unknowns in a complex and emerging situation such as the COVID19 pandemic could lead to a wide range of potential answers. Fortunately, instead of pinning the tail on the proverbial donkey and declaring a particular trajectory as scientifically proven, and therefore a sound footing on which to proceed, he acknowledged his step as being useful, but only part of a journey. And that’s a journey that we’re still on together.
Alongside our involvement in the modelling of the current COVID19 epidemic we, like many others, are volunteering. Our teams’ skills are varied. You’ll find some putting their NHS uniforms back on to strengthen the front line, others organise with a vengeance and others focus on supporting vulnerable members of their family or community. However, our motivation to ‘do the right thing’ is not derived from the scientific evidence but from our basic humanity. Robots response to algorithms and hard-wired rules of ‘behaviour’. Humans respond to intuition informed by our incredible ability to rationalise and to do useful things like science – our intuition and rationalism are constantly talking! That’s just how our brains work. Leaning too heavily on one or the other can lead to disaster.
What then are our human intuitions? They are about seeking out order and resisting the chaos that the approaching tornado will bring. They are about respecting the wishes and the decisions that each of us has to make, particularly in difficult times. They are about working hard to ensure that people aren’t left behind or disadvantaged as the storm passes. And they’re about walking in other people’s shoes to allow empathy and compassion to steer our human relationships. Most of all it’s about taking the risk to trust each other. These are the things that make a community resilient whenever and under whatever circumstances, and they’re the things that make us human.
Being led by our humanity means working hard in the service of others, in our families, local communities or for those who are more distant and yet who benefit from our labours. This is how we are led and how we behave. It’s written into the neurons of our brains. So, let’s recognise the science of COVID19 progression as a process not an answer, and let’s be sure to twin that science with the intuition and humanity that defines who we are.
And, whilst we’re on the subject, perhaps you might reflect on how being ‘led by our humanity’ might speak to the incommensurability and crass equivalents being drawn between stock markets and the value of human life…