PANDEMIC FATIGUE – Five (unseen) evils
By Mike Burnard
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is a major health hazard that cannot be denied or rationalised any longer. As per current statistics (dated 29 December 2020), 81,672,074 people have been infected and nearly 1,5 million deaths attributed to COVID-19 had been reported – and the numbers are rising. South Africa has also been affected significantly, and to control the spread of infection, the Government has once again announced several rigorous steps to relieve the pressure on health-care workers and resources.
The initial restrictions in March were seen by many as a “necessary inconvenience” but 10 months later a new danger is lurking: PANDEMIC FATIGUE. The Daily Maverick reports that while recognising the sacrifices that people have had to make in the face of the pandemic and national lockdown responses, the World Health Organisation (WHO) argues that months of uncertainty, social disruption, and personal strain has resulted in a rising tide of PANDEMIC FATIGUE. This concept refers to a personal sense of “demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by a number of emotions, experiences and perceptions”.
The WHO refers to a range of reasons for this non-adherence to safety measures, some of which include a loss of confidence in the government, diminished perceptions of risk, and a tendency towards complacency.
We need to identify the unseen evils of this “new” illness and be vigorous in fighting it. Here are five evils to consider
- The evil of (unsolicited) CRITICIZING: Watch out for armchair experts
The pandemic is more than just about the numbers, the infections, fatalities, vaccines, lockdowns, and the economy. There are so many deeper levels of complexity to consider that no one single person has an extensive grasp of the full picture. Be careful to listen to those who present themselves as experts but have little experience in the specialised fields of virology, biochemistry, clinical Microbiology, Molecular biology, and the discipline of infectious diseases.
Arm-chair experts have popped up everywhere on social media since the virus was first identified more than a year ago and fed on the uncertainties that followed. Those who criticize so easily are mostly those who have little insight into the bigger picture
Watch out for confirmation bias- only reading and researching what you want to believe and not seeking the information provided by those who are daily challenged with the reality of the virus.
For an expert view on the virus visit: https://dialogos.co.za/covid-19-video-listen-how-a-clinical-microbiologist-responds-to-conspiracy-theories/
- The evil of (unjustified) DEMONISING: Watch out for political bias
We need to guard against the temptation of politicising this tragedy. Many still believe that it is the local government making all the decisions about lockdowns and restrictions. Pointing fingers to political ‘enemies’ will not contribute to finding solutions nor will it contribute to an atmosphere of hope. Christians have the right to share their views but, at all times, need to be vessels overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13)
Governments have a broad council of advisors – on various levels – that guide the decisions that are being made. In South Africa for example, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) for Covid-19 consists not only of doctors or scientists but are from fields including faith-based organisations, organised labour and civic society. The committee is not led by ANC cadres, as many believe, but by a number of experts who are also part of the clinical-biomedical ministerial advisory committee. These are chairperson Professor Abdool-Karim, Professor Marc Mendelson, Professor Sthembiso Mkhize, Professor Rudo Mathivha and Professor Nombulelo Magula.
There is no doubt that the MAC consists of independent experts in various fields with far greater insight than social media pundits. We can, and should, trust them on issues that not only relate to medical science but also social sciences, the economy, behaviour, and the psyche of the population.
Be slow to demonise your leader. The only mandate we have as Christians is to pray for our leaders, regardless of our political convictions
- The evil of (unintentional) RATIONALISING: Watch out for the arithmetic of compassion
A recent article in the Washington times explained people’s reaction to mass suffering and death as follows:
In 1994, hundreds of thousands in Rwanda were murdered in the space of weeks by soldiers and militias from a rival ethnic group. In response, the United States and much of the world largely shrugged. President Bill Clinton later called his administration’s failure to act one of his great regrets.
Puzzled by that apathy, a psychologist named Paul Slovic began conducting experiments to better understand people’s reaction to mass suffering and death. What he found was troubling.
In one study, his researchers showed people a picture of a 7-year-old girl dying of starvation and asked for donations to help her. He showed another group two starving children, then even larger sets of children. Slovic found people’s distress didn’t grow with the number of children in danger, but often shrank. “In fact, the more who die, sometimes the less we care,” Slovic said in an interview. In greater numbers, death becomes impersonal, and people feel increasingly hopeless that their actions can have any effect.
“Statistics are human beings with tears dried off,” Slovic said. “And that’s dangerous because we need tears to motivate us.”
With the coronavirus — the death toll substantially exceeding 1,7 million — many of our strongest impulses are working against us, experts say. “Think about the disasters that have captured our national attention. … A hurricane like Katrina hits. News crews show the devastation, and people open their wallets,” said Lori Peek, who directs the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “But this pandemic isn’t a camera-ready event like that.”
Instead of a single discrete event — like the twin towers collapsing on Sept. 11, 2001 — the pandemic has unfolded as an invisible, slow-creeping, chronic hazard. Over time, our brains gradually tune out the danger.
Peek likened the effect to heat waves, which kill more people in America than all other natural disasters combined. “But you never hear that much about heat waves because it’s gradual. You don’t see people trapped on rooftops like Katrina. You don’t have homes going up in flames like in wildfires.”
Be slow to rationalise and keep on seeing the individuals behind the statistics.
- The evil of (unfounded) VICTIMISING: Watch out for a victim mentality
Are you, or someone you know, playing the victim in this pandemic? A victim mentality is a psychological term that refers to a type of dysfunctional mindset which seeks to feel persecuted in order to gain attention or avoid self-responsibility. People who struggle with the victim mentality are convinced that life is not only beyond their control but is out to deliberately hurt them.
Here are some common signs to look out for (from the website https://lonerwolf.com/victim-mentality/#:~:text=Victim%20mentality%20is%20a%20psychological%20term%20that%20refers,control%2C%20but%20is%20out%20to%20deliberately%20hurt%20them.
- You’re constantly blaming other people or situations for feeling miserable
- You possess a “life is against me” philosophy
- You’re cynical or pessimistic
- You see your problems as catastrophes and blow them out of proportion
- You think others are purposely trying to hurt you
- You believe you’re the only one being targeted for mistreatment
- You keep reliving past painful memories that made you feel like a victim
- Even when things go right, you find something to complain about
- You refuse to consider other perspectives when talking about your problems
- You feel powerless and unable to cope effectively with a problem or life in general
- You feel attacked when you’re given constructive criticism
- You believe you’re not responsible for what happens in your life (others are)
- You believe that everyone is “better off” than you
- You seem to enjoy feeling sorry for yourself
- You attract people like you (who complain, blame, and feel victimized by life)
- You believe that the world is a scary, mostly bad, place
- You enjoy sharing your tragic stories with other people
- You have a habit of blaming, attacking, and accusing those you love for how you feel
- You feel powerless to change your circumstances
- You expect to gain sympathy from others, and when you don’t get it, you feel upset
- You refuse to analyse yourself or improve your life
- You tend to “one-up” people when it comes to sharing traumatic experiences
- You’re constantly putting yourself down
It is troublesome to see how many have made the pandemic a personal tragedy, forgetting about those who sacrifice daily, to the extreme, to help others. We should never confuse “sacrifice” with “inconvenience”. Not being able to go to the beach this year is not a sacrifice, it’s an inconvenience – and a temporary one at that. Wearing a mask, not being able to celebrate the new year in the usual way, not having my usual luxuries at my own preferred times – these are all inconveniences. Healthcare workers working 24-hour shifts, neglecting families and friends, holding the hands of dying patients, not seeing the outside of hospital buildings for days on end- these are sacrifices that few have to endure.
You are not the victim
- The evil of (uninterrupted) chronic complaining: Watch out for spiritual discontent
The hallmark of the Christian faith is that we embrace our suffering with dignity. Our supreme example, innocent yet judged and unjustly crucified, gave us the mandate to find delight in the cross of Salvation and dignity in disgrace. Jesus never lost His dignity by seeking scapegoats, by exposing the evil plans of His enemies, by calling His crucifiers the Antichrists, or by pointing fingers to the corrupt Roman Empire and religious leaders. His only dignified response was an appeal to His Father to forgive those who sought His demise.
We should refrain from chronic complaining – rather give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. There are always people that are worse off than we are and there is always something to be grateful for. Here is the scripture to quote first thing every morning:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
This is a time like no other – but it’s temporary. It might be inconvenient, but this too shall pass.
In times of uncertainty, the Church should provide a moral compass that points to hope, the spiritual NORTH that Christ provides. The Church is not there to complain about masks, vaccines, Church gatherings, and lockdowns but to BE witnesses of a Saviour who has made provision for those who are infected to find hope, those who are afraid to find peace, those who have lost loved ones to be comforted, those who have suffered economically to be refreshed, and those who are alone to be inspired. In a season of uncertainty and fear the Church cannot afford the luxury of justifying meetings in buildings while people are seeking hope in the streets.