They are on the naughty list!
Hang on a moment, there is no naughty list!
Did you break any rules during the pandemic? How do you feel about it?
Your answer may well depend on the ethical or philosophical framework you use to make decisions. I suspect that most of us are now truly fed up with the lockdown. Maybe not, my sister suggests your preference for introversion or extraversion will indicate your preference for lockdown. Her hypothesis is that, introverts are loving it whilst extraverts, like me, are having a hard time. It is true that I have dark days when I can’t see people and yes, Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and all help a little but they don’t replace the joy of hugging friends and family.
As I am writing this, BBC news is playing in the background and a man is speaking. ‘What’s the point of living if we can’t meet people. There is no point in living!’ Well it seems that both Kay Burley and Rita Ora agreed with him.
Kay and Rita both celebrated birthdays by hosting parties that broke the Covid rules. Both have apologised and Kay Burley was suspended from work for six months. Both are probably financially comfortable enough to be able to withstand any fines or penalties from their actions. There is a view that ‘celebrities’ are called out more often for rule breaking. They are certainly more visible when they fail to comply. Both of them are role models and one of them is employed to communicate the news and that probably includes some sort of implicit understanding that her role is to help reinforce our awareness of the rules.
So, why do it? Why take the risk? Why break the rules?
Over the past few years, I have realised that I am a compliant person. I didn’t start my adult life in this way. I always thought of myself as a rebel and a rule breaker. I never meant to be compliant, I just somehow morphed into being a rule follower. Is it because I am getting older, or that I can’t be bothered to expend the energy required to be rebellious? Or is it because I really care about reducing the numbers of people needing NHS help?
Some of my friends are doctors, medical workers, front line workers including teachers, tram drivers and police and they are fed up with the mixed messages they are receiving from Government. They are told to keep working, work collaboratively, put themselves at risk, do whatever it takes to keep the country running. But, and this is a big but, don’t hug your grandchildren, extended family or friends. Don’t even consider having a meal or a drink with people from another home. Don’t meet your work colleagues, who you see everyday, in a restaurant or a home to celebrate a birthday or other special occasion.
So how do we decide whether to follow or break the rules?
It seems that it all comes down to the ethical paradigm we use to take decisions. We may be in one to two camps or we may cross between the two depending on the situation. These camps are teleological (more utilitarian) or deontological (more Kantian)? Great words and I felt I had to use them.
Do you make decisions based on character and relationships, are you more concerned with being a good person with good intentions and is the goal the most important thing for you? If you answered yes, then you operate using a teleological ethical paradigm for decision making. For example, if you spend your day in a school and put yourself at risk and a friend invites you to her house for a socially distanced drink, you might decide to go even though it breaks the rules because she is lonely. You and your partner may decide that helping her feel less isolated is more important than following a rule. You conclude that the goal of making her feel connected is more important than a blanket law that doesn’t deviate. You may further conclude that you are being a ‘good person’ by helping your friend.
If, on the other hand you decide that you must follow the rules, which clearly do not allow mixing of households, so decline the invitation, then you may be operating from a deontological perspective. Deontology derives from the Greek for Duty. It is a duty based approach concerned with taking the ‘right action.’ It is sort of Kantian. If you are a rule abider then you may adopt a more Kantian approach. An article in The Irish Times asks, ‘Are we all Kantian’s now?’
What intrigues me, is that the Government initially applied a rules based Kantian approach to the lockdown. Then, we had the Dominic Cummings affair which turned everything on its head. He and various MPs broke the clearly defined rules and faced no consequences. Dominic Cummings definitely applied a teleological and not a deontological approach to his own situation. He talked at length in a televised interview and explained why he was a ‘good person’ for protecting his son, his wife and himself without putting other people in London at risk.
I believe the actions of Dominic Cummings directly affected the subsequent behaviour of people across the UK who started adopting an approach along the lines of: if it’s okay for him, then it’s okay for me to break the rules. Over the last few months of 2020, the Government’s language changed and responsibility was shifted more to the individual. You could say, the Government shifted from a Kantian approach of ‘follow the rules’, to a more utilitarian approach of ‘take your own decisions.’ That approach didn’t appear to be working, so in January 2021 we were placed, once again in lockdown. The messaging reverted to the one used in the first lockdown (more Kantian!). ‘Stay home – Protect the NHS – Save lives.’
In preparing for this blog I spent quite a bit of time reading about the ethics of lockdown and there are some interesting articles about different aspects. One article in the New Statesman suggests that the Government decided to loosen the rules for Christmas because people would probably break them anyway. Another article in the Spectator asks, ‘Is it ethical to lock us down again?’ It comments that lockdown inflicts agony, particularly on the young.
The United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights suggest that the two messages of the modern public mental-health approach are:
1. There is no health without mental health; and
2. Good mental health means much more than the absence of a mental impairment.
There is a lot of information on the internet about the impact of lockdown on our mental health. I know it has affected me. There are also various resources available from the NHS, Mind and others. I have also offered free coaching to anyone who needs someone to talk to. So, do message me.
Lets go back to Kay Burley and Rita Ora, they both applied a Teleological approach – in the style of Dominic Cummings – to their decision making. At least they both apologised profusely and Kay Burley has accepted the consequences of her action.
Since the beginning of March 2020, when we started to withdraw into a smaller world, I made my opinions clear to all friends and family. We have decided to follow the rules. When friends tell us about the various deviation from the rules they apply and their rationale, we assume they have identified and mitigated the unintended consequences of their actions.
As the vaccine takes hold and our lockdown eases, we will all choose how we wish to behave in this new phase of the pandemic. It won’t be easy, particularly if we receive mixed or unclear messages from leaders.
So, if you struggle with decisions, ask yourself, are you doing something because its in your nature and you believe a breach is okay if it makes you or a friend happy? Or, are you trying to follow the rules? Understand that every decision you make will be grounded in a deeply held philosophical perspective, which may be different to the one held by others.