Risky behaviour

Here we go again. The leaked rumour that Freedom Day in the UK will not after all happen on 21st June comes as absolutely no surprise to me. Call me Eeyore and feed me a bunch of thistles but, despite being a glass half-full sort of person, for the past few weeks I have been gloomily predicting that when it comes to the crunch, ministers will chicken out and delay lifting statutory restrictions. Project Fear has been so frighteningly effective, that although many of us will mutter and protest, we will mostly go along with it because who wants to be accused of killing someone else’s granny by their selfish behaviour? After all the shroud-waving and dire predictions, a few more weeks of restricted movement/socialisation etc. just to be on the safe side, will be largely accepted. What does it matter?  We have done it for so long that it feels like normal. So cancel the Welcome Back to Ringing arrangements that we had just started to make, postpone any idea of a summer jolly, sigh that 6 bells can be rung but not 8. Delay being introduced to your first grandhild who lives in another country (they are going to be walking and talking before you meet them) and give up hope of saying goodbye to an elderly parent that lives abroad and whom you have not seen for over a year. Postpone your wedding once again. Accept that your business has collapsed and lay off any remaining staff that you were desperately hanging on to. It is OK.  We will get through it.

However, it does matter, because we now know that we will probably never be “on the safe side” again. We may control this particular virus to manageable levels, but another threat will come along and we will be back in the panic room, avoiding all interaction and doing untold harm to people’s economic, social, cultural and mental well-being. Our smug belief that humans can control everything has been shaken to it’s core. We can’t. Other viruses, other disasters, possibly environmental, will rise up and are we going to shut everything down and cease to act like normal human beings every time that we are threatened?

I read last week that some scientist has seriously suggested that we maintain social distancing and wear masks for the rest of time, to reduce the probability of disease spreading throughout the population. What a truly bizarre prospect.  Social interaction is crucial for our health and well-being.  We cannot keep on avoiding our fellow humans for the rest of our lives. We have to accept that there are risks in living. There are also risks in living a “half-life”, where people are fearful of each other, quick to judge each other’s behaviour, and denying themselves pleasures that have been seen as perfectly normal throughout history, despite all sorts of plagues and pestilences.

Every time that we choose to drink a glass of wine or beer, smoke a fag, eat a sausage, suck a boiled sweet, drive a motorised vehicle, swim in the sea or a river, walk across a field of cows, cross a road, go out in a storm, put on a pair of slippers, climb a ladder, sit in the sun, indulge in an active sport etc etc, we take a risk.  We are probably not aware of how we calculate these risks and weigh them up, but we do. Some risks are accepted although they are associated with highly dangerous activities, because we want to enjoy a certain lifestyle.  We like a glass of wine and some red meat, and will drive some miles to enjoy it. We love to play rugby, jump out of an aeroplane, sit on a motorbike, hurtle down or climb up a mountain, so we accept the risk involved.,

In a similar way, we need to learn to weigh up the risks involved with a virus in the community. Does the risk outweigh the pleasure that we might attain from a certain action? Some kids might love to party and dance the night away with their friends, some people love to sing in choirs or play in an orchestra or band, some people want to travel. They need to assess the risk to themselves and others if they indulge in their passion and take a responsible decision. Perhaps one could see it as having an allowance of risk vouchers – like a ration book.  Each activity that any person indulges in comes with a varying degree of risk, so everyone must choose how to “spend” their risk points in the way that they would most enjoy.  I may decide to attend a ringers’ tea, you might go to the opera. Someone else might take part in a sporting activity that involves a number of people getting up close and personal, and yet another person might risk a date and snog a stranger. A supporter might go to a football match whilst someone else might go crazy and attend a WI meeting.  It should be up to us to behave responsibly and with consideration. Allowing certain sections of society to open up, but clamping down on others is unfair. We all have different interests.  Why should someone be allowed to play indoor bowls in a group of more than 6, but not ring 8 bells together?

Of course I can already hear the howls of protest –  some greedy people will spend more than their fair share of the allocated risk (some people are ignoring the rules and doing so anyway).   Some people might make a bad choice and get sick ( it happens all the time – you lie on a sunbed for hours and develop a skin cancer or ruin your liver with alcohol abuse). How can people be expected to make the right decisions? This is a long term solution to what will be a long term problem.  We have to teach people how to weigh up risks and make rational decisions about their own lives. It starts in childhood and continues throughout adulthood as new threats come along. Rather than a government telling us what we must do and cowing us into submission through fear, why not provide individuals with the tools to make sensible decisions for themselves?  That means teaching a proper understanding of statistics and probabilities in schools, being transparent about what we know and also what we don’t know.  Trusting that most people will do their best to behave responsibly, and that, between us, we will work out an acceptable way to live that does not involve endless lockdowns and bizarre behaviours.

The risk averse will say that I am irresponsible, but those of us who are prepared to accept a degree of risk have a right to be heard also. Whose rights trump whose?

And now I hear on the radio that there is talk of the UK remaining in lockdown until next spring. A brilliant psychological move. When it is announced tomorrow that restrictions will apply for a month or so longer, we will breathe a sigh of relief and say to each other ” it could have been so much worse….”

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