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Power and the Pandemic: Why Mindset Matters

What is the real purpose of lockdown?

(and the threat of another if we all don’t behave ourselves and stick to the rules?).

If you are anything like me then this is a conversation you will have had with friends and family.

To save lives is the obvious answer.

According to the Kings Fund, the number of people who will die as a result of getting the virus is estimated to be 1%, close to zero for anyone up to the age of 45, rising to 11% for those over 75. Their stats shows that excess deaths (those above the average for the 5 preceding years) went up initially then came down under the average. Their assumption being that the virus kills quicker, particularly those already vulnerable. After the spike in March and April, deaths are now still tracking below average deaths for the past 5 years.

The issue with statistics however is that they can paint a very skewed picture, particularly when they are not set in context. But of course, it depends on your purpose, the picture you want to paint and what benefit there is to painting that way.

  • So what was success going to look like?
  • The NHS coping?
  • No deaths?
  • And at what cost?

The NHS has been overwhelmed for years with a growing and ageing population. We might have the chance to get to 82 if we are women, 78 for men which is about 10 years longer on average than our grandparents could have expected (and 20 years older than theirs) but we are signficantly fatter, less fit and more likely to suffer from dementia. The Pandemic put pressure on an already over stretched system, but the public being in lockdown meant demand for services fell so that they could prioritise. Those working at the front line have done admirably, but managing the back log they now face in delivering the “non essential” procedures that were cancelled is where the hard work really starts. Particularly when coping (at worst) and managing demand successfully and cost efficiently (at best) may well be dependent on what they do not do.

The total number of recorded Covid deaths between March and Aug represents 10% of all causes of death (which ranks above lung disease, and behind heart disease). The rhetoric from our elected leaders likened the response strategy to waging a war against an invisible enemy. Now maybe with 6 months of attempting to control and fight we may finally have to concede that living with it with some pragmatism is the very best we can do. After all death itself it something we cannot control, cheat or avoid. However unpalatable that is to say. If you talk to those working in palliative care, they are conscious and confident in facilitating conversations about death – exploring the wishes of the individual and how they want to die, supporting and simply being there to listen, and love, when it is time to let go, and stop interventions that might prolong life but not the quality of that life. Often these do not happen until the last minute and sometimes not at all, particularly with those closest who may not be ready to accept reality even when the person dying is.

The same would appear to be happening amongst those elected to lead us – and the media. Unless I have missed something I see no national conversation about death and dying – only fear mongering, vilification of the young and a focus on being “seen to do something”. Even if that something is pointless and laughably disconnected.

And at what cost?

Recorded domestic violence cases rose sharply in the UK. The average of 2 women killed a week doubled (at a time when availability in safe houses reduced by 60% due to COVID restrictions on shared communal accommodation). There were more deaths from suicide in August than Covid and imposed isolation for those who arguably need human contact and connection even more – the elderly, the dying and the sick.

And then we have the economic cost. 20 years of GDP wiped out in a matter of months, mass unemployment, more inequality between the haves and the have nots and the burden to a national debt that is going to take decades to repay. Some will have thrived during the past 6 months (and good luck to those who have!) but many will not and have been driven further into debt.
Desire as a mindset tends to be driven by a fear of failure. It shows up as bullish, wants to have it all, sets what often turn out to be unrealistic ambitions, drives harder and harder to prove itself to others and ignores inconvenient truths, warning signs and costs. Beautifully illustrated, in my opinion, by Boris.

Survival is panicky, frantic, fearful and short term – it focuses on how it will get through today, this week. Decisions made in survival are often knee jerk, reactive, where we become so focused on one thing (in a desperate attempt to control the situation) that we simply don’t see the impact and chaos we are creating elsewhere. Fear. Which is what fear driven activity tends to create. The government are currently seeking to extend their “emergency powers” which will enable them to implement further controls on our organisations and society, without the need for any dialogue or scrutiny in parliament. Paving the way for more reactive controls, but in a manner that is, for any democracy, unconstitutional.

Obligation as a mindset is flat, lifeless. It complies, does what it is told, albeit unwillingly. Over time whilst when we are in a mindset of obligation keeping our heads down, going through the motions, we can start to get resentful, seek revenge in small ways, to get one over – which is the one to watch. Nothing great or good comes from a mindset of obligation in terms of creativity or results. No change is possible for as long as we toe the line without a clear reason why (or one that makes sense to us).

Purpose, however, has a very different energy. It is grounded, realistic, aware, connected to the bigger picture, others and reality. It knows what it wants. Clear also on the principles, values, assumptions and beliefs underlying this purpose. This is the energy of action and alignment.

It is my greatest wish that the voices of all the pragmatists out there rise up to provide balance and perspective. And at the very least, provide encouragement in the day to day to keep reaching for what and who that drives the quality of our lives. Which is where I think the Swedes may have got it right….their bars, schools and workplaces stayed open, their economy was one of the least impacted. People have died (and they are looking at what they could have done better to support those in care homes) but the government has led their people through the process treating them as adults who can make decisions that are good for themselves and others (wear a mask, keep some distance, but carry on the business of living). More empowerment and less control.

As for Boris, well, we shall see. Leaders running on a mindset of desire for too long tend to crash and burn. He has faced the mother of all challenges to be fair to him, but some leaders in position of power have come out of this with their reputation and trust enhanced at home and abroad. It is possible.

Now I just need to figure out how to use my own power, and make my own voice heard. It is easy to throw stones, criticise from a safe distance, much harder to step forward, to do something, influence someone to make a difference, however small.

The Mindset of Encouragement, how to lead with more power and less control is out now. Available on Amazon. Link below.

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