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The time for learning - alongside the wheat and weeds

Greg Morgan's profile picture
Posts: 25

21 June 2020, 8:09 PM

I appreciated reading Eric Dodd's reflection David posted. (The text comes up in the lectionary soon, when I am preaching: I was focused.) Here is a reflection on another big topic of our day, posted by my friend Barbara to Facebook. I think it is helpful to read the two pieces together. The words in bold are emphasis I have added.


Changing the way we react to disappointment
Barbara McCulloch, June 2020

On Saturday morning we were enjoying brunch outside of Scarecrow Café in Central Auckland. A man, walking past us on the footpath, told Mik, “Wearing that tee shirt could be dangerous in a few weeks”. The tee shirt he referred to was red and had a Labour Party emblem on the front of it. With no warning, the random comment from a random stranger, it was hard to know how to respond.
We all have had something of a snakes and ladders experience of the Covid-19 crisis. We had our first experiences of people being unwell, we adjusted to the rules around “Level 4 Lock Down”; we debated the costs and benefits of “Go Early and Go Hard”; we became a Team of 5 million; we swore about the people who broke the rules; we sympathised deeply with people who lost loved ones; we worried about the impact on our health system and our economy; we wondered if we had done the right thing; we celebrated the string of days of No New Cases; we went down through the levels to Level 1 and celebrated.
And then, it came back. As it has come back in many other places. Bloody virus!
I’ve defined a crisis as: “a terrible and unexpected event that we weren’t well enough prepared for”. I acknowledge that we, like most other countries, could have been better prepared, and my question is, what would need to be different so that we were all better prepared?
I guess we would have to have been more willing to listen to and pay attention to the people who have been warning us of the increasing likelihood of a pandemic arriving and the impact on our “normal”. We would have needed to consider the impact that we have contributed to by not looking after our planet better. We could have thought more about our increasing reliance on repeat consumption and the impact of that.
Those are really big things to think about and most of us probably feel exhausted already by change at the moment. Although we need to.
But what I think we can think about and should think about, right now, is the way we react to a set-back or a disappointment and the high stakes game of blame we are currently playing.
Mostly, I’ve felt really proud of us and the way we’ve responded to the Covid-19 crisis.
I wonder about how a different government would have managed and I conclude that it would have managed more like the UK and USA governments. They would have stayed longer in the denial stage of reaction, they would have been angrier and less kind and considered in their reactions. It is probable that the health and economic systems would have been under more stress, more people would have died and fewer achievements would have been celebrated.
And now, when we have five active cases of Covid-19 back in the country, it has triggered some people into a rhapsody of blame. Some Opposition politicians and some journalists and commentators have indulged themselves in celebrating the newest snake-slide and shown their relief that something has gone wrong and they can blame the government and become “the story”.
My view is that people tend not to be well prepared for a crisis; it’s an unexpected event after all. So is it better for us to respond when a crisis happens, by reframing “crisis” into a “steep learning curve”. We could then measure more on, “what can we learn from this and how can we capture what we learn so that next time, we are better prepared?” We could have a search for meaning, rather than for blame.
Nobody so far, has got their responses to the steep pandemic learning curves right first time. We all had to learn, reflect and use those reflections to plan and try things while still trusting each other and hoping for the best. In New Zealand we mostly did better than most and let’s face it, we had seriously good leadership that supported us to mostly become a great team. And now, we have a new task: to maintain the progress we made through the levels even though it’s still a new game and a new game without rules to rely on.
Mistakes have been made. I thought that quarantine had a clear meaning but it seems that others didn’t share that understanding and needed things to be clearer. So, Quarantine could have been more explicitly defined. Providing harder boundaries and rules and expectations and consequences might have helped. For example, should there have been provision for “compassionate exemptions”?
Should some politicians have thought more about their “desire to help people” and the likely impact of “helping two in order to put 5 million at risk?” Should other politicians have put their information into the learning pot, rather than creating ammunition to fire?
The wholesale condemnation of what has been achieved by some, because it hasn’t been a mistake-free process and because some people have sometimes made the wrong decisions isn’t helpful.
Inflated language like “a shambles” to describe mistakes, is not helpful. Inflated language is simplistic, shows poor word-skills and an uncritical mind. My biggest concern, however, is that inflated language is anti-learning and, on the steep learning curve that we are all still on, that is fear-mongering.
How much of this is just another search for attention? How is “attention-seeking behaviour” a good model for decision making? How do people who are supposed to have leadership roles and be skilled in the use of thoughts and words expect support for attention-seeking now tactics?
They are the people in whom we can justifiably feel disappointed. Or, as Brene Brown says, we should pay much less attention to those who criticise and comment destructively and instead, admire and support the people who get out there to try new things, create possibilities and learn from mistakes.

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