Why we need a new approach to mental health care

Credit: World Federation for Mental Health
CLASSIC STUDY LEAVES SCAR ON PSYCHIATRY

In 1973, Stanford University professor and psychiatrist, David Rosenhan, arranged for eight mentally healthy people (three women and five men, including himself) to present themselves at mental institutions and declare that they were hearing strange voices. All were certified mad even though their auditory hallucinations were feigned. The eight fake patients were checked in to different psychiatric hospitals and seven were diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics.

Rosenhan’s subsequent landmark paper, On Being Sane in Insane Places, created a media sensation and a crisis in psychiatry. There was astonishment at the ease with which mental health practitioners had been duped by a made-up symptom. Psychiatrists, it seemed, unlike suspicious fellow patients, could not tell a phoney from a lunatic. Not one of Rosenhan’s “pseudopatients” was unmasked by hospital staff.

The Rosenhan experiment is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatry. That eight perfectly sane subjects could fool doctors into believing that they were insane called into question the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. There was a “uniform failure to recognize sanity” in any of the pseudopatients, Rosenhan concluded, and not one of them was ever found out by the medical staff despite behaving normally while in hospital.

“It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals,” Rosenhan famously wrote at the outset of his report’s conclusion. He went on to say that the diagnosis of mental health patients was flawed because the classification system used at that time was not valid.

A disturbing aspect of the experiment was the claim by pseudopatients, as reported by one writer, that the staff was dehumanising and often brutal.

Conversations with staff were limited by their frequent absence. When the staff did have time to talk, they were often curt and dismissive. Orderlies would often be both physically and verbally abusive when other workers were absent. The pseudopatients reported they often felt invisible, as the staff would act like they weren’t even there.

There was a second part of Rosenhan’s study which also delivered a minor bombshell. A hospital – which had heard about Rosenhan’s initial test and claimed that similar errors would not occur there – was falsely informed that one or more imposters would attempt to be admitted as psychiatric patients. Staff at the hospital subsequently determined that 41 out of 193 patients were not genuine patients. In reality, Rosenhan had not sent a single imposter to the hospital.

While Rosenhan’s main experiment illustrated a failure to detect sanity, the secondary study demonstrated a failure to detect insanity. He starkly concluded that “one thing is certain: any diagnostic process that lends itself too readily to massive errors of this sort cannot be a very reliable one”.

One of Rosenhan’s key findings was that psychiatric labels tend to stick. Consequently, everything a patient does is interpreted in accordance with the diagnostic label applied. This is why the original diagnosis of schizophrenia biased the staff’s interpretation of patient behaviours. For example, pacing a corridor out of boredom was interpreted as “anxiety” by hospital staff.

Not surprisingly, Rosenhan’s unsettling findings were disputed by other psychiatrists who claimed that his study was flawed. However, the main message he sought to convey was the relative ease with which a person can be misdiagnosed as mentally ill and the significant difficulty in erasing that diagnosis. He argued that psychiatric labels tend to have a longevity that physical medical labels do not.

We have all experienced the extraordinary power of language to motivate and inspire. But words can also stigmatise and – at its core – Rosenhan’s study was about demonstrating the biasing power of psychiatric labels. I have seen this destructive power first-hand.

A member of my broader family suffers from poor mental health and her condition has been assigned numerous diagnostic labels throughout her life. Each of her labels has served as a cue that activates stigma and stereotypes and sometimes results in her being kept at arm’s length. Just as no one diagnosed with dementia wears it as a badge of honour, those diagnosed with a mental disorder equally know that they will likely suffer negative evaluations by others – a case of judging a book by its cover.

Moreover, a psychiatric label can become a self-fulling prophesy as patients act out the label. I have seen this first-hand with my above-mentioned family member who blames her “depression”, “bi-polar”, “melancholy”, or whatever other label is current at the time, for her actions during a depressive episode. “I can’t help my behaviour!” she will exclaim, “as people with my condition do these things”.

A final thing that I have witnessed with mental health patients is the apparent compulsory need for medications to be prescribed by the treating physician. In the Rosenhan experiment, the pseudopatients were administered more than 2,000 pills, including antipsychotics and antidepressants – which they largely discarded. Yet again, I have direct experience of the negative impact of pills on patients. Mental health drugs are powerful and often have side effects.

Many years ago, I provided a listening ear to a friend who was feeling down. During our chat, he revealed that he had been to see a psychiatrist for a heart-to-heart but that the doctor was more interested in pumping him with pills. As my friend rejected the prescribed medicine, the specialist said he could not see him again.

At end of the day, all my friend wanted and needed was a supportive shoulder to cry on and some genuine kindness. As portrayed by Robyn Williams in the movie, Patch Adams, a little kindness goes a long way when someone is under the weather. Following a traditional medical school education, Hunter “Patch” Adams rebelled against the pill-pushing model of medicine and pioneered a more humane approach based on laughter, love and caring as primary forms of medical treatment.

His style of care and disdain for the prevailing methods put him at odds with the norms of the established medical profession. Yet, his approach has merit. I think that every mental health specialist should watch the movie, Patch Adams, which provides a life lesson for psychiatrists. The movie’s underlying message may be a bitter pill for some doctors to swallow. However, when it comes to mental health, life should imitate art, particularly as the mental health effects of the coronavirus crisis have driven a marked rise in anxiety and depression in Australians.

Never again should pseudopatients be allowed to fly over the cuckoo’s nest!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

How COVID-19 exposed inequality among workers

Source: Twitter: NBC 5 Chicago
UNDERVALUED CORONAVIRUS HEROES

While nations were under lockdown during the depth of the pandemic, millions of people around the world worked remotely from home. At the same time, there was an even bigger cohort of essential workers for whom it was business-as-usual as the coronavirus swept the land.

These unlikely heroes drove the trucks which delivered our goods, stocked the supermarket shelves which provided our groceries and prepared the takeaway meals which kept us fed. Other essential workers – like farmhands, meatpackers, store cashiers and warehouse clerks – also helped keep the economy’s lights on.

When the pandemic hit, jobs previously labelled “low skill” were reclassified as “essential”. As cities enforced quarantines and shoppers squabbled over the last roll of toilet paper on the supermarket shelf, “essential” employees were out and about keeping societies functioning. Their efforts largely went unnoticed even though they were everywhere.

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals bore the brunt of the outbreak and were the most at-risk population. They received an outpouring of gratitude from citizens and governments for their tireless patient care. Non-medical frontline workers, however, were less recognised. Nonetheless, this other layer of critical workers continued to show up on-the-job to help maintain a semblance of normality for others.

The pandemic has shone a light on the stark workplace divide between people who can work from home and those who can’t. Lower paid workers – like factory employees, security guards and supermarket staff – don’t have the option of working remotely. In contrast, highly compensated workers – like managers and other professionals – are able to shelter at home.

Alison Pennington, a senior economist at The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, told ABC News that it was easy to see how the pandemic work regime could compound inequality in Australia.

We estimate people who can work from home are earning around 24 per cent more than those who can’t. They’re also more likely to have paid sick leave benefits — while essential workers who are turning out every day, are more likely to work for lower pay, but also less likely to have sick leave.

Pennington said those differences were creating greater inequality, not only in incomes, but also health outcomes as essential workers faced the higher risk of infection without the income safety net of sick leave. She stated:

… coming through this regime, what we’re going to find is that the pandemic is going to require a universal entitlement to sick leave if we’re going to be able to work through the virus and keep everyone safe.

The Centre for Future Work estimates that only around 15 per cent of Australian workers currently have the option of working remotely full-time. That figure is expected to double as companies quickly adapt to allow more of their employees to stay away from the office. By way of comparison, about a quarter of US workers can easily do their jobs from home.

COVID-19 has revealed how deeply our fates are tied together. It’s not a case of us and them – all workers are in this together. Amid stay-at-home orders, office workers ditched their daily commute while essential workers continued to drive our buses, clean our workplaces, collect our rubbish, cook our food and staff our nursing homes.

Essential workers are just that – essential. They keep communities running, so staying home isn’t an option for them. Risking their wellbeing for the greater good, their sacrifice is a moral calling for all of us. The pandemic added another layer of burden and responsibility to their jobs as they braved the frontlines against an invisible enemy. We owe them our heartfelt thanks.

Thank you to supermarket employees. Often working at minimum wages, they had to deal with epidemic levels of abuse from irate customers. Retail workers are our neighbours and fellow citizens and maybe even the children of your friends. They put themselves in harm’s way to ensure we had access to essential goods – they deserve our highest praise.

Thank you to delivery drivers. While many of us were safely hunkered down at home in isolation, we asked others to drop parcels to our front door. Fulfilling our online orders required the coordinated efforts of workers in warehouses, sorting hubs and courier companies. They provided an indispensable lifeline to the outside world. We are in their debt and salute their wonderful service.

Thank you to transit workers. Buses and trains underpin urban life and during the pandemic they performed the critical task of shuttling workers to and from their jobs. This put transit workers in daily physical contact with members of the public in the confines of a bus or train making social distancing difficult. Three cheers to these quiet achievers for keeping our cities running.

In the war against the novel coronavirus, these and myriad other essential workers were the life support for communities. Yet their work is chronically underpaid and undervalued by society. The explanation for this can be found in economics – or more precisely, the law of supply and demand.

The harsh reality is that lower paid “essential” jobs require few educational credentials. Moreover, the skills necessary to be, say, a cleaner, are easy to pick up as they are non-technical. This means that the pool of eligible workers is large, making it easy for employers to hire and fire.

Around the world, many essential workers just get by, living from pay-to-pay. Yet, during the pandemic, these “low wage workers,” according to Health Policy Watch, continued “to risk exposure to the deadly virus while celebrities and CEOs retreat(ed) to private mansions and islands for self-isolation”. This brought the gap between “have” and have nots” into stark relief.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times on 24 April 2020, Gene Sperling, a former economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama asked: “Will our overdue recognition of the contributions of so many workers lead to only temporary applause and pats on the back, or will it move us toward a true social compact ensuring economic dignity for all?”

Drawing inspiration from legendary human rights activist, Dr Martin Luther King, Mr Sperling wrote:

Fifty-two years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously asserted the dignity of all work, he seemed to foresee this moment when it would become so clear that the labor of everyone – farmworkers, grocers, delivery drivers, caregivers, nursing assistants – was essential to all of our health and well-being.

“One day,” Dr. King told sanitation workers on strike in Memphis in 1968, “our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant”.

In the words of Dr King: “All labor has dignity”.

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

How the coronavirus pandemic will change the world

Earth image courtesy of NASA http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
READING THE TEA LEAVES

Right now, the degree of uncertainty in the world is immense, which is why thinking about what life will be like after COVID-19 is daunting. But that has not stopped futurists from taking out their crystal balls and making predictions about the type of society the pandemic will leave in its wake.

Will we revert to business-as-usual or will humanity have a changed worldview? Will the outbreak of an invisible virus redefine globalisation, causing nation-states to seal their borders or will we better understand that we share a single planet and need each other to survive?

No one, of course, can answer these questions with absolute certainty. However, one way to gain a sense of what might lie ahead is to look at previous crises. Other dark times in history have united people against a grave challenge and the hope is that this will happen again.

Throughout history, nothing has killed more humans than infectious diseases. Plagues and epidemics have ravaged humanity since the dawn of civilisation. Each global disease outbreak has taught us how to manage its spread as well as providing vital lessons for containing future outbreaks.

Our understanding of the need for social distancing comes from the bubonic plague. King Henry VI of England implemented one of the world’s first anti-contagion measures. He banned his subjects from kissing on the cheeks when greeting someone. To this day, Brits favour a firm handshake over a peck.

During this current pandemic, we have gone one step further – handshakes are out and elbow bumps are in. Many argue that handshakes will never return. My hope is that this everyday gesture – which establishes a positive connection between two people – will eventually become common place again.

History shows that major upheavals also leave their mark on geopolitics. This happened in the aftermath of World War II when the liberal world order was created. Liberalism is an international (as distinct from national) worldview which opposes isolation and protectionism.

The liberal vision looks for collective solutions to global problems by working co-operatively with the help of international institutions (such as the WHO) to make the world a better place. Liberalism as a political ideology is linked to globalisation whereas nationalism is driven by anti-globalist sentiments.

The liberal worldview is not embraced by President Trump and other right-wing politicians. During his election campaign, Trump declared that “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo”. Until a few months ago, it seemed that the resurgence of this nationalist political ideology would define the remainder of the 21st century.

However, the pandemic has forced governments around the world into solidarity and co-operation. It has also demonstrated that a world without deep cross-border engagement is not tenable. The international system will certainly be challenged but will survive, whereas America’s go-it-alone policy will be found wanting.

While World War II devastated Europe and Asia, the US emerged in strong economic and military shape making it the undisputed world leader. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the US which is now being challenged – China wants to become the new hegemon.

China will accelerate its maneuvering for international leadership while the US continues to falter (unless Joe Biden wins the November election). COVID-19 has intensified the rivalry between the world’s two superpowers with both nations engaging in mutual recrimination in lieu of collaboration.

In times of great uncertainty, the strong dominate the weak and China has used the pandemic to cast itself as the global saviour. China has provided many nations, including Australia, with hundreds of thousands of test kits, respirators and face masks. Ironically, several countries reported faults with the masks and they were returned.

For over two decades, China has been known as “the world’s factory” as it dominates many manufacturing industries including the production of face masks. If nations do not want to be beholden to China post COVID-19, they must break China’s stranglehold on global supply chains.

Depending on one country to provide vital products for industries such as the pharmaceutical sector is a recipe for disaster. About 80 per cent of pharmaceuticals sold in the US are produced in China. This number, according to experts, hides an even greater problem: China is the world’s largest and sometimes only global supplier for the active ingredient of some vital medications.

The label “Made in China” will diminish in the coming years. National governments will intervene to force strategic industries to diversify their supply chains to reduce their dependence on any single country. By its very nature, a global economy will always be interconnected and interdependent, but this does not mean that one powerful nation should be able to hold others to ransom – no matter how attractive their price proposition might be.

Another thing that we will encounter when the dust settles on the pandemic is a massive increase in sovereign debt. The world is awash with stimulus packages as nation-states have raced to help people and businesses survive the economic contagion. Collectively, the various fiscal and monetary interventions are estimated to exceed a staggering US$10 trillion, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The pandemic is the biggest hit to the global economy since the Great Depression which is why the world has opened its wallet. But it is citizens who will be forced to pay the bill. The burden of reducing higher net public debt will fall on taxpayers, just as wartime spending did. In many nations, this payback will be via a combination of higher taxes and less government spending.

A final change that we will encounter is the same as that experienced post September 11 – citizens around the world will be required to sacrifice liberties for safety. Just as travellers are now searched before boarding a plane, the price of continued vigilance against new viruses will be some loss of privacy and personal freedoms.

The rise of mass surveillance after 9/11 offers a cautionary tale about the use of technology to keep tabs on people’s movements. During this current crisis, location tracking apps on mobile phones have been used by China, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. These nations have kept a very close eye on people who have been exposed to the virus.

In the fight against COVID-19, civil liberties have been treated as a casualty of war. However, the right to privacy is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Civil Liberties Australia recently warned that “a health emergency is no excuse for abusing secret powers” and that Australia must not use a crisis “to permanently implant more draconian security measures including excess surveillance”.

Please allow me to conclude by underscoring that a number of possible scenarios have been developed by scholars, analysts, columnists and other commentators to describe what society might look like on the other side of COVID-19. Many are predicting that the pandemic fallout will significantly impact all domains of life and will drive huge shifts in how we live and how governments govern.

I accept that some things will change, but reject the assertion of many commentators that the world will be unrecognisable. One assessment which I do embrace is by the influential foreign policy magazine, Foreign Affairs. In a recent article titled, The Pandemic Will Accelerate History Rather Than Reshape It, (a must read!) the magazine stated that “the world following the pandemic is unlikely to be radically different from the one that preceded it”.

Yes, the world feels awfully strange right now, but life on Earth as we know it will return. There will not be an upheaval of everything that we once took for granted, however, lifestyle patterns will experience some changes. My hope is that we will all be part of a more humane society and that we have all learned at least one lesson:

You don’t know how much you miss normal life until it’s gone!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

What lessons can we learn from the coronavirus outbreak?

Illustration: Andrzej Krauze/The Guardian
THE WORLD IS SICK AND IN DISARRAY

Everywhere you look, you see disruption. International markets are in turmoil with a recession in many nations almost assured. National governments are in crisis mode implementing unprecedented financial and social measures. And worried citizens are in a state of panic with fear causing irrational and unhelpful behaviour.

Welcome to the world of COVID-19. What confronts you is not a scene from a disaster movie but the brutal reality of a global health emergency. The coronavirus started as an epidemic in China and quickly morphed into a global pandemic. It has upended life as we know it and has reshaped how we work, learn, shop, travel and interact.

We are dealing simultaneously with a health crisis and an economic meltdown. Saving lives is killing jobs as governments make impossible choices between health and wealth. Epidemiologists and economists alike are unable to put hard numbers on the human and financial costs of this rolling calamity. What is clear is that infection rates globally have been rising while the job market has been in free fall.

There is no unanimity of opinion as to how long it will take to curb the spread of the coronavirus and how the pandemic will end. Predictably, many apocalyptic predictions have been made about COVID-19. If we ignore the doomsday scenarios, the best-case is that we will get it under control in the coming months and life will largely return to normal. The worse-case is that it may keep infecting people for some time causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine.

In the meantime, the pandemic should act as a wake-up call for humanity. There are serious lessons to be learned for all of us. The ground is shifting beneath our feet and this will change the social and political landscape. Like the Global Financial Crisis, the coronavirus is an Earth-shattering event which will have far-reaching consequences.

Already, commentators are writing opinion pieces about lessons arising from the pandemic. One such commentator is world-renowned author and historian, Professor Yuval Noah Harari. In an article he penned for the London based international daily newspaper, Financial Times, on 20 March titled, The World After Coronavirus, Harari stated:

… the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive – but we will inhabit a different world. Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times.

It’s said that life is lived forward but evaluated backward. Put another way, in the thick of the moment it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, but with the benefit of hindsight things become clearer. Given this, it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about the lasting impact of the COVID-19 saga. While there will undoubtedly be more to come, here are some early lessons.

The first lesson is that the coronavirus will force the return of big government. The pandemic is a stark reminder of the role governments play in our lives and how vital they are in times of crisis. A key duty of any government is to protect the well-being of its citizens which is why governments have been leading the battle against the coronavirus. Hearing the words – “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” – is no longer terrifying. The outbreak will strengthen nation states – the need for them has become infectious.

The second lesson concerns the illusion of borders. Global challenges have no national borders and viruses do not carry passports. No one is geographically immune to a virus as it easily crosses borders. Neither screening travellers nor banning travellers creates an impermeable barrier that absolutely protects a country from importing diseases. Undetected cases slip through – borders cannot be completely sealed and will always be leaky. This is the reality of living in a global village.

The third lesson is that we need to change our self-centered ways. Not enough of us have shown grace under pressure. There has been a lack of camaraderie. Panic has prevailed over common sense. Many have behaved like a marauding swarm of locusts stripping supermarket shelves bare. We needed to be at our selfless best but have been at our selfish worst. The crisis has unmasked who we really are and proved beyond doubt that individual behavior has a profound impact on society. Many of us have failed the civic responsibility test.

The fourth lesson concerns the role of the media and the dangers of using fear-inducing language. “Facts, not fear”, will stop the virus said the World Economic Forum. “Words matter” warned the World Health Organisation which urged the media not to use terms like “plague” or “apocalypse” or to describe people with COVID-19 as “spreading the disease”. These pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Sensationalist reporting is seen as a “bigger contagion” than the virus itself. The media stands accused of whipping people into a frenzy with irresponsible coverage. But will they be brought to account?

The fifth lesson comes in the form of an almost unspeakable question: Should we sacrifice the economy to save lives? Put another way, is the cure worse than the disease? Policy-making invariably involves trade-offs and governments have prioritised mortality risk over economic risk. But containment policies to “flatten the curve” have cost millions of jobs and trillions of dollars and some see this as too high a price to pay. I believe that governments were correct in not letting the pandemic play out unchecked. However, the policy of “do whatever it takes and whatever it costs” will be challenged as the playbook for future crises.

Undoubtedly, more lessons will reveal themselves as the pandemic unfolds. For example, is it possible to quickly resuscitate an economy following a “controlled hibernation” or is growth stunted for an extended period? Only time will tell the full extent of the damage caused by a microscopic, invisible enemy that has brought us to our knees. But one thing is clear:

The human species is not invincible!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

How to stop the pandemic and restart the economy

Source: The Economist
SAVING LIVES AND RESTORING LIVELIHOODS

Around the world, the hustle and bustle of daily life has come to a screeching halt. Cities have become ghost-towns and virtually every aspect of society has changed. Social distancing is the new catchphrase with elbow bumps replacing handshakes.

As governments double down on containing the fast-moving pathogen, the question on everyone’s lips is the same: When will life return to normal? While no one has a definitive answer, it’s clear that we need an exit strategy to lift the forced lockdowns and cease the curtailment of economic activity.

Any exit strategy requires input from both epidemiologists and economists as targeting coronavirus and reopening businesses are intertwined. We need to bring the contagion to heel and resuscitate national economies, but the public health response must come first – the wellbeing of citizens is paramount.

From a health perspective, the global imperative is to flatten the contamination curve. Every country is keen to join the few nations that have controlled the epidemic and are focusing on preventing a resurgence. Singapore is being held up as a model for achieving rapid control of the virus.

Arguably, the most important factor in the city-state’s fight against COVID-19 is that it had a pandemic response plan in place before the virus hit. This was developed in 2003 following the SARS outbreak and enabled Singapore to act pre-emptively and early.

Singapore did not impose drastic lockdown measures – schools, universities, workplaces, bars and restaurants remained open. Rather, the government introduced rigorous detection and strict quarantine of those found to be infected. It also moved early to ban incoming flights from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.

Singapore has done everything right” said a former WHO infectious diseases expert. In contrast to Singapore, many other nations have had slow and fumbled responses and lost the ability to replicate Singapore’s rapid containment success. These nations must continue with their forced lockdown measures to break the COVID-19 transmission chain.

This begs the difficult question: When is it safe to relax these restrictions? Experts warn that easing shutdowns too early will inevitably result in the virus rearing its ugly head again. A second wave resurgence of infections might see the number of confirmed cases soar.

[NB: In early April, Singapore detected a potential second wave of infections and immediately cancelled mass gatherings and closed venues, places of worship and tuition centres.]

Governments and their health advisers are grappling with how to reduce social distancing measures and ease lockdowns without reigniting the virus and going back to square one. “We do have a big problem in what the exit strategy is and how we get out of this,” said Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.

Canadian health expert, Assistant Professor Jason Kendrick of Manitoba University, cannot see daily life returning to normal until there is a vaccine and his view is supported by other experts. However, a vaccine is at least 12-18 months away, which is why Professor Woolhouse told the BBC that “waiting for a vaccine should not be honoured with the name ‘strategy’, that is not a strategy”.

A vaccine for COVID-19 will need to be administered to about 60 per cent of the global population to achieve “herd immunity”. This occurs when enough people have developed an immunity to the outbreak and vaccination is seen as the best way to safely develop herd immunity.

The policy of the WHO is to keep things clamped down until drugs and a vaccine are available. COVID-19 is too widespread and contagious to fade out on its own, so science will have to deliver immunotherapies. The pandemic has a firm grip on the world and there is no reset button that can make it disappear.

In the meantime, national governments are becoming increasingly concerned about the economic impact of keeping widespread restrictions in place. Economists fear that the worldwide economic downturn could be deep and lengthy. Commercial activity cannot return to normal while there are constraints on human interaction.

Authorities are caught between the urgent need to reboot economic activity and the ongoing need to contain the virus. With large swathes of the population unemployed and many businesses teetering on the brink of failure, rebuilding broken industries is a key economic goal of all governments.

China did not wait for a vaccine to be developed before it sent workers back to factory floors and construction sites. The majority of China’s workforce have returned to their jobs and manufacturing activity is beginning to ramp up. Malls and restaurants have re-opened to crowds.

The world is now watching to see if China can keep COVID-19 at bay. To date, China’s high-stakes experiment seems to be working – it appears to have successfully dampened the rate of new infections. But work life is very different in China’s post-virus economy. Fearing a resurgence in cases, the government – as reported in a TIME article – is taking a gradual approach:

Beijing’s city government is requiring that the number of people in each office be limited to no more than 50% of usual staffing levels. Protective face masks are required, and office workers must be seated at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) apart. Workers are not supposed to face each other when eating.

Similar measures have been implemented across China. As noted in another report:

… (office) workers enter in shifts staggered to minimize potential exposure. Infrared cameras and security staff check temperatures as they arrive, and their workspaces are decontaminated three times per day. Workers must wear masks at all times and are required to complete a daily health questionnaire. No more than six people are allowed in elevators; tape on the floor shows where to stand. Face-to-face meetings are discouraged, and people eat alone in the cafeteria using a cardboard “face shield,” to minimize risk when a face mask is removed.

Lifting lockdowns and getting people back to work is clearly a mammoth task and there is no one surefire way for it to be done. India is talking about a “staggered re-emergence of the population”. Other nations will undoubtedly have different road maps. Only time will tell which strategy proves to be the most effective.

Putting the COVID-19 genie back in the bottle will challenge every nation.

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

Why the COVID-19 outbreak has led to mass hysteria

Source: Jack Thomas/Getty Images
STOP THE Obsessive-compulsive coronavirus disorder

The reaction to the coronavirus has created catastrophic economic and social disruption. It has spooked investors causing them to wipe trillions of dollars of value from global financial markets. It has panicked consumers driving them to clear out supermarket shelves in order to fill household pantries. And it has besieged governments forcing them to impose travel restrictions, quarantines and shutdowns.

Volatility is now the new normal as the pandemic brings with it unprecedented changes to daily life. To break the chain of transmission, people are embracing a combination of hygiene measures (eg, hand sanitising) and social distancing measures (eg, remote working). We are all being asked – quite rightly – to change our usual habits to curb the virus and protect the most vulnerable in society.

Many of the disruptions that we are experiencing are not caused by the outbreak itself. Rather, they are the result of people’s panicked response to the coronavirus. Many believe that the media must take some responsibility for fuelling unnecessary alarm. The pathogen is dominating the news cycle with radio stations and television networks bombarding us with dire forecasts about the pandemic.

Media outlets around the world have been breathlessly reporting virtually every new diagnosis of the coronavirus. However, they rarely tell you that catching the virus is non-life-threatening for most people under 65 years. Many infected people never become sick and, of those who do, the fatality rate may yet turn out to be less than the number of deaths from the annual influenza epidemic.

Each year, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 650,000 people die of respiratory diseases linked to seasonal flu. As of this writing, the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, according to John Hopkins University, is 58,901.

In a recent press conference, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said that for most people infected with the coronavirus it “will be a mild illness and it will pass”. He acknowledged that the most at-risk members of the community were the aged, which is why authorities moved to lockdown aged care facilities to protect vulnerable residents.

I commend governments and medical authorities around the world for being concerned and taking the coronavirus seriously. The outbreak has plunged us into the unknown. We know what to expect from the long observed seasonal flu and have a vaccine to treat it. But the coronavirus has taken us into uncharted territory – its novelty means that scientists aren’t sure yet how it behaves.

Understandably, many find this frightening and that’s all the more reason why reporting of the pandemic must be measured and balanced. The media has an important role to play in letting the public know the dangers without inciting panic. But they have hyped the outbreak with alarmist information such as worse-case scenario death toll predictions. This has driven fear rather than build an understanding about the illness.

US academic, Kalev Leetaru, is a senior fellow at the George Washington University. He recently published the results of an analysis which sought to identify the degree of scrutiny the media deserves for “fomenting” coronavirus panic arising from their “wall-to-wall, end-of-days coverage”. His conclusion is that the media has “played a measurable role in driving public attention to the virus and likely worsening behaviors such as panic buying”.

Of course, scaremongering by the media is nothing new. In his 2012 book, Sideshow: dumbing down democracy, former Australian federal minister for finance, Lindsay Tanner, described how the media manipulates the discussion of issues in ways that entertain rather than inform. He argued that media reporting is blatantly designed to manipulate the public’s emotions. Tanner cited a number of examples where the media created unnecessary panic including the Global Financial Crisis, the Year 2K computer bug and the swine flu epidemic.

The media reporting of these events produced a public response out of proportion to the threat. I vividly recall the exaggerated Y2K reporting. While technology legend, Bill Gates, saw the millennium bug as “a minor inconvenience”, less qualified IT commentators promulgated doomsday scenarios and were aided in their deception by the media who spun compelling but inaccurate stories.

A gullible public bought into the outrageous predictions about planes falling from the sky and missiles self-launching. But the bug did not bite and the New Year passed with nothing more than the expected hangover. Those who foretold of a global computer apocalypse caused unnecessary panic but were never brought to account.

Nothing had changed by the time of the Fukushima power plant disaster in 2011. Yet again, the media wheeled out instant experts who hyperventilated over the very modest amounts of radioactive fallout. Fears about radiation contamination were clearly overblown but made for dramatic headlines which trumpeted the dangers of nuclear energy. The same tactics are being used by the media with regard to the coronavirus.

During an address at a conference in Munich on 15 February, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, said: “… we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous”. Two weeks later, Dr Ghebreyesus ended a 28 February media briefing with a similar remark: “Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself. It’s fear, rumours and stigma”.

Another voice worth listening to is that of Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics. In an article that she recently co-authored with two colleagues for online global healthcare knowledge provider, BMJ, Wenham wrote:

We conceptualise this as two different outbreaks: one outbreak of a coronavirus, and one of viral fake-news. This sensationalised panic and fear concerning the nCoV2019 outbreak is a consequence of the proliferation of sources of information which exaggerate the severity of this outbreak….

She went on to say:

… we need to consider the media’s role and responsibility in informing and shaping understanding and reaction to this outbreak. Are they aware of the public health impacts of headlines such as “killer virus”, “deadly disease” or a “killer coronavirus epidemic”? Alarmist headlines like these incite further fear among populations and communities (and) challenge the more measured public health communications from the government or WHO … The scarier the language and voice, the more this false narrative of coronavirus takes hold.

Every public health outbreak inevitably involves communication and panic prevention is an integral part of managing any pandemic. Panic is contagious and destructive and should be avoided at all costs. All new contagious diseases receive extensive media attention with the media coverage setting the agenda for public debate and concerns.

Media executives know that people are predisposed to fear what they do not understand. Dire warnings by news outlets of a “horrific” and “catastrophic” disease tap into our anxieties and play to our primeval fears. Care must be taken, therefore, not to use fear-inducing language but to employ a narrative which tempers fear and provides reassurance.

Let’s work together to stop the virus of fear.

P.S. The best article that I have read on the role of the media in fuelling coronavirus panic is by Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen of Cardiff University – a must read!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

Why the coronavirus outbreak has driven panic buying

COVID-19 HAS EMPTIED SUPERMARKET SHELVES

Around the world, people have flocked to supermarkets and stripped shelves of household essentials. Panic buying has reached fever pitch with shoppers piling trolleys high with toilet paper and other items. Supermarkets have imposed limits on customer purchases to quell unnecessary hoarding. In some cases, police intervention has been required to contain the behaviour of stampeding customers.

The coronavirus has caused us to fret and this has brought out the worst in humanity. Irrational stockpiling has turned people’s fear of a shortage into a self-fulfilling prophesy. Pleas by public authorities for calm have fallen on deaf ears. Worry about the scarcity of supplies has driven panic buying which has bred more panic buying – a classic case of herd mentality. Illogical behaviour has become contagious.

Blindly following the crowd has created public unrest which, in turn, has led to pandemonium due to confronting reporting. Television and social media have whipped people into a frenzy by triggering anxiety and uncertainty. The rolling news coverage with minute-by-minute online updates have stoked public hysteria and induced panic.

Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a journalism expert from Cardiff University, stated that the coronavirus reporting is a “bigger contagion” than the virus itself. She expressed concern at media coverage which used “sensationalist and frightening language” such as “killer virus” and “deadly disease” and said that she found this “particularly problematic”.

One online media outlet, Euronews, ran an article which asked the question: Which is the real pandemic – coronavirus or the hysteria that follows? It answered as follows:

The world is clearly in the grip of not one, but two pandemics, caused by a new coronavirus, the “novel Coronavirus 2019” or nCoV-2019 for short. The first pandemic is the actual infection caused by this virus. The second is the panic, hysteria, threat inflation, associated racism and xenophobia that are exploding in the shadow of the viral outbreak. The latter pandemic may claim more lives than the first.

One Australian newspaper, Darwin’s NT News, made light of the loo roll hysteria. It printed several blank pages for readers to use if they ran out of toilet paper. “We’ve printed an eight-page special lift-out inside, complete with handy cut lines, for you to use in an emergency,” the paper’s front page cheekily read.

Consumer psychology experts have opined that herd mentality coupled with over-exposure to coverage of the coronavirus is to blame for stores being ransacked of groceries and long-life pantry staples. One such expert, Steven Taylor, is a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia and author of The Psychology of Pandemics.

Taylor argues that panic buying is fuelled by anxiety and a willingness to go to irrational lengths to quell those fears such as queueing for hours or buying way more than you need. He says: “If everyone else on the Titanic is running for the lifeboats, you’re going to run too, regardless if the ship’s sinking or not”.

Many shoppers insist that they are only in a frenzy because everyone else is, not because they are scared of the coronavirus. So, fear of missing out is allegedly driving them to join the hordes of other shoppers whose self-preservation instincts have also kicked in. People argued that it is “only normal” to want to look out for themselves and their families. No one, it seems, wants to take responsibility for their own overreactive behaviour.

Outraged customers have vented their fury on social media at the chaotic scenes created by the reaction to the virus. “Just ridiculous” and “insane” and “outrageous” are some of the comments recorded. During the height of the run on paper products, the top trending topic on Twitter in Australia was #toiletpapergate. Clearly, people did give a sh!t that stocks were wiped out!

History shows that a consumer buying frenzy ahead of a potential crisis is not an uncommon phenomenon. For example, it famously occurred in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis when nuclear war seemed imminent. Sensible American families stocked their basements with enough canned goods and bottled water to survive an atomic blast.

There’s nothing more fearsome than the great unknown and this describes the coronavirus. Many in the community see it as a dramatic event which requires a dramatic response – such as descending on supermarkets and stripping the shelves bare of toilet rolls, hand sanitisers and surgical masks. A much better response is something far more mundane – properly washing your hands.

Once a sense of normalcy and balance returns, we must examine our collective behaviour. It’s clear that we have to get better as a society in responding to the surprises and shocks of modern living. This requires us to take a more holistic approach by focussing on “we” rather than “me”. Our narrow self-interests must give way to the optimum outcome for all parties.

Trying to achieve the best for the collective rather than the individual led to the development of a branch of economics called game theory. This theory describes how the gain of one player is offset by the loss of another player, equalling the sum of zero (a.k.a. – a zero-sum game).

The best known example of game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma where two criminals are enticed by police to betray each other. The prisoner’s dilemma – to confess or not to confess – underscores how our choices affect others and how the choices others make affect us.

The Global Financial Crisis was a modern-day prisoner’s dilemma where the “every-man-for-himself” attitude saw markets crash as everyone tried to get to the exit door first. All the efficiencies of the free market flew out the window as institutions hid their bad loans causing credit markets to freeze as players did not trust each other.

The notion that someone has to lose for someone else to gain is narrow-minded. We humans must learn to modify our self-defeating behaviour, which is why game theory should be a compulsory element of the core curriculum of educational institutions. We all need to be taught the benefits of co-operation over conflict and this training should begin in the home.

After all, parents are the world’s first and foremost teachers. We can all play a part in making our planet a better place.

Let’s wipe out crap behaviour!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

Why global population is set to fall and what it means

IN EVERY MAJOR CITY OF THE WORLD, THE STORY IS THE SAME.

Roads are clogged, trains are crowded, hospitals are overstretched and suburbs are congested. Humanity’s footprint is becoming denser and we are feeling the crush of an increasingly populated world. Doom-mongers warn that the population explosion could ultimately lead to ecological and societal collapse. But is overpopulation panic justified?

Overpopulation is a hotly debated topic. Environmentalists warn that our planet’s safe carrying capacity was not designed for 7.5 billion people and that this will create food scarcity and water shortages. Economists counter with their own cautionary tale about falling fertility rates leading to more senior citizens and less children resulting in fewer workers supporting additional retirees, declining income tax revenues and reduced economic growth.

Overshadowing the dichotomy of environmental health versus economic health is a provocative prediction – the population of the world is headed for a steep decline. More than half of the world’s population now live in countries where the fertility rate – the average number of babies born per woman – is below the replacement level of 2.1. This means that an increasing number of couples are not having enough children to replace themselves.

Due to falling global birth rates, a growing number of demographers estimate that the planet’s population will peak at around nine billion sometime between 2040 and 2060, and then start to decline. If this is correct, alarmism and extreme measures to combat overpopulation are entirely unnecessary. This is the central assertion of Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline by Canadian authors, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson.

The Canadian duo goes against the grain of conventional wisdom in arguing that world population will peak far lower and sooner than UN forecasts. Their contrarian view is that the world faces a birth dearth in lieu of a population explosion. Thus, the unfolding problem is one of depopulation, not overpopulation. The significance of a contracting global population is laid bare in the book’s preface:

The great defining event of the twenty-first century – one of the great defining events in human history – will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end. We do not face the challenge of a population bomb but of a population bust – a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

The authors add that by the end of this century, the planet’s population could be back to where we are right now, and steadily growing fewer. The main driver of declining fertility is urbanisation. As explained by Bricker and Ibbitson: “On a farm, a child is an investment – an extra pair of hands to milk the cow, or shoulders to work the fields. But in a city a child is a liability, just another mouth to feed.”

So, as rural folk escape poverty and nations grow richer, people opt for smaller families – a phenomenon called the fertility transition. Women in cities have more access to education, careers and family planning and these combine to lower rates of childbearing. As noted by the World Bank: “The higher the level of a woman’s educational attainment, the fewer children she is likely to bear.”

The authors note that one solution to a declining population is to import replacements. That’s why Angela Merkel welcomed so many working age refugees into her country in 2015. Germany has an ageing labour force and a declining birth rate and desperately needs an injection of young workers. But Merkel discovered that anti-immigration sentiment is alive and well in Germany – and the same holds true in other nations.

Few contemporary issues are more controversial than immigration. It emerged as a top issue in the 2016 US presidential election campaign. It was a driving force behind Brexit and the desire to restrict entry into the UK. And it has propelled right-wing parties in France and elsewhere that campaign on a “no more immigrants” platform. Around the world, hard nationalist and xenophobic politicians have galvanised support by whipping up fear over immigration.

“As the Brexit referendum revealed,” notes Bricker and Ibbitson, “many Brits want to turn the English Channel into a moat. To combat depopulation, nations must embrace both immigration and multiculturalism. The first is hard. The second, for some, may prove impossible”.

Those who challenge the merits of immigration are often unaware that most advanced economies are heavily reliant on immigrants for labour growth. Japan has ignored this reality to its detriment. Japan allows very few people to immigrate and – as its fertility rate is less than 1.3 children per woman – it has a shrinking labour force. Japan is seen as the canary in the coal mine for assessing how population change affects economic growth.

Japan has been described as a slow-motion disaster with a shrinking pool of taxable citizens and ballooning social welfare costs for an increasing number of elderly. Japan has the highest national debt of any nation in the world (248% of GDP) as a result of its need to stimulate the economy through huge government spending programs. Economists argue that the world is now entering what Japan first experienced back in the 1990s when it suffered a “lost decade” of economic stagnation from which it has not recovered.

Beyond economics, Bricker and Ibbitson claim that population decline will influence the global contest for power.

Population decline will shape the nature of war and peace in the decades ahead, as some nations grapple with the fallout of their shrinking, ageing societies …. The defining geopolitical challenge in the coming decades could involve accommodating and containing an angry, frightened China as it confronts the consequences of its disastrous one-child policy.

Only time will tell if the authors are correct in predicting the looming demographic challenge of global population collapse. My sense is that they are on the money in forecasting that there will be significantly less of us. I have little doubt that my grandchildren will live in an emptier world populated by more grandparents than grandchildren.

Another example of what goes up, must come down!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

Why we find it hard to forgive and harbor resentment

IT WAS A MAGNANIMOUS GESTURE.

Following his shooting in 1981 by a Turkish gunman, Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin and asked people to “pray for my brother (Mehmet Ali Agca) whom I have sincerely forgiven”. In 1983, the pope visited the Rome prison where the terrorist who gravely wounded him was imprisoned and personally extended his mercy.

Like the injured pontiff, Kim Phuc had every reason to hate. Phuc was a young girl in 1972 when she was photographed running naked down a Vietnam street screaming in agony after a napalm bomb incinerated her village, her clothes and then her skin – one of the most iconic pictures of the 20th century. Phuc long ago forgave the man who co-ordinated the bomb attacks that changed her life forever.

These two events show that forgiveness can transcend tragedy. Ali Agca used bullets to make a statement while the pope used compassion. In the same way, the US military used force to stop the spread of communism while Kim Phuc used a charitable foundation which she established to spread her message of peace throughout the world. From the horrors of war, Phuc embraced forgiveness and learned to love her enemies.

Forgiveness is a choice that sets us free, but many of us struggle to forgive. For some, forgiveness comes with time as wounds heal. For others, forgiveness never arrives and is supplanted by a lifetime of bitterness. Those who cannot forgive carry around unresolved issues and become weighted down by emotional baggage. They ruminate on the negative aspects of life and are unable to move forward as they dwell on the hurt of the past.

To forgive is the ability to pardon an offence without holding resentment. That’s exactly what Pope John Paul II and Kim Phuc did. Neither sought revenge nor played the victim. They did not hold a grudge or get caught in a vortex of anger and vengeance, but forgave as quickly and fully as possible. They are both shining examples of the power of forgiveness. How many of us could have done what they did and let bygones be bygones?

Forgiveness is not easy, but it does make the world a better place. The virtues and benefits of forgiveness are well documented. Letting go of enmity makes us happier, healthier and more empathetic. Forgiving someone for a prior wrongdoing can make you feel better. In contrast, unforgiving people tend to be hateful, angry and hostile. Their preoccupation with a transgression or hostility towards another consumes them with negative emotions.

Forgiveness does not require you to forget the harm done to you or to reconcile with the person who caused the harm. Nor does forgiveness let someone off the hook or minimise a wrong. In the words of one expert:

Forgiveness is not releasing the offender for legal obligations. It’s not condoning or excusing, which implies there’s a justification. It’s not forgetting or refusing to remember the event. It’s not reconciling, which implies there’s restored trust and contact. And it’s not pretending that everything is fine.

In explaining the actual process of forgiving, health writer Jessica Cassity states:

… you may never say the words “I forgive you” out loud. Instead, forgiveness is an internal process, something you do to help come to terms with a past experience and end your suffering, pain, anger, and resentment around the event. You simply decide to stop focusing on blame and instead move forward in a more positive direction.

To be clear, forgiving does not excuse the evil, trivialise the wrong or erase the yearning for justice. But it does bring internal peace and this helps us get on with life. Not surprisingly, forgiveness has been central to the lives of some of the most admired and inspiring people throughout history – from Mother Teresa to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr.

All of us have been hurt by the actions or words of another and while we can choose to forgive, it requires strength. As Gandhi asserted: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”. Nelson Mandela displayed fortitude when he chose to forgive his jailers. After spending 27 years imprisoned by his political enemies, he did not become embittered but devoted his life to securing peace in South Africa.

Contrast Mandela’s behaviour in rejecting recrimination with those who become consumed by road rage. Anger behind the wheel occurs with frightening regularity with an increasing number of drivers wanting to exact vengeance for another’s actions. To be irritated by another driver is understandable, but to respond with obscene gestures, yelling, honking, tailgating or even running another motorist off the road is unacceptable.

Such impulsive behavior stems from a lack of emotional intelligence. A core emotional intelligence skill is self-awareness – the ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen. Understanding and controlling your moods and emotions can seem a daunting skill to cultivate, but the effort is worthwhile. Self-awareness enhances your relationship with yourself and others and this facilitates forgiveness.

Forgiveness should be a way of life for everyone because it’s more important to be happy than right. Forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself – it’s not about the other person. Indeed, holding a grudge in your heart only hurts you and not the person you’re stewing over. So, don’t let pride stop you from being a forgiving person. Put aside the barriers that prevent you from experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Help make the world a better place.

As Gandhi observed: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”.

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

Why we are all liars and consistently tell mistruths

Presidents do it, judges do it and even cardinals do it.

We humans have a propensity to lie when caught doing the wrong thing. US president, Bill Clinton, lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Australian judge, Marcus Einfeld, claimed he was not the driver of a car which was speeding. Catholic cardinal, George Pell, denied he abused two choirboys.

When caught red-handed, businesses also attempt to lie their way out of trouble. Boeing initially defended the reliability of its 737 MAX aircraft after two of its jets crashed. Volkswagen initially covered up the emissions scandal but eventually confessed to its misdemeanours. BP initially hid the size of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico before revealing the full environmental impact.

The truth about lying is that we all do it – and not just when we are in hot water. Research reveals that the average person lies at least once a day. Some lies are harmless little fibs while others represent serious whopping deceit. It would be a rare individual indeed who could honestly claim that he/she is always completely truthful.

Just about everyone you know tells low-stakes lies. These lies lack malicious intent and are trivial white lies like saying “I’m fine” to a colleague when you are actually having a terrible day. White lies are said to be justifiable when they are told out of kindness to spare another’s feelings. That’s why many of us would not respond truthfully if a friend asked us if he/she was overweight.

Some people tell lies which are a tad more deceitful. They call in sick when they are well. They say they will be in touch when they have no intention of doing so. They tell a romantic partner they love them when they don’t. They exaggerate their accomplishments during a job interview. Whether these lies are an innocent part of everyday interactions is subject to debate.

When it comes to high-stakes lies, it’s clear that these are not garden-variety falsehoods. There’s a big difference between a person who tells an occasional porky and someone who is a compulsive liar. Such crafty and seasoned deceivers misrepresent the truth to hide a mistake, deliberately hurt others or secure personal gain.

The rogues’ gallery of bald-faced liars includes politicians who daily twist the truth, fudge the numbers and manipulate the facts. While dishonesty in politics is nothing new, Donald Trump’s litany of blatant lies and smears have put him in a league of his own. An article in The Guardian on 30 April 2019 titled Lies, damned lies and Donald Trump stated that Trump undeniably:

… has just become one of the most prolific liars in the history of American governance, passing the 10,000th lie of his administration this week – meaning an average of almost 17 lies a day over 604 days. Not all of his lies were created equally. Some have been harmless … (while) others are downright horrifying and dangerous, about serious issues such as immigration and abortion.

Trump is a compulsive liar with a penchant for false and outrageous utterances which take the form of exaggeration, omission, distortion, accusation, conspiracy and outright doozies. Some believe that he is a deranged lunatic who has a tenuous grip on reality. His reality consists of “alternative facts” and many believe that his alternative view of the world is pathological.

Bizarrely, Trump’s invented facts do not faze his supporters who simply shrug off his lies or turn a blind eye. It seems that no evidence to the contrary can shake their faith in the president – even when his false claims are debunked by credible sources. According to conventional wisdom, there is supposed to be a penalty for lying, but in the president’s case, his lies trump the truth!

Humans are hardwired to lie – it’s part of our DNA – which is why fibbing comes naturally. Our capacity for dishonesty is an innate skill which has been enhanced by social media platforms such as Facebook. Deception in the digital age is rife with online lying giving rise to fake news. Many social media users deliberately fabricate things about their lives to project a more desirable image.

It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction when online users post made-up or exaggerated stories in order to secure likes, comments and followers. It’s not uncommon for people on Internet dating sites to lie about their looks, height and weight. And the pressure to project a cool online persona drives some to use photo apps, like Instagram, to make their pictures more flattering.

Like every other human on this Earth, I’ve told my fair share of mistruths. I deliberately lied to my children when they were toddlers by telling them that there was a Santa Clause, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. I now tell the same lies to my grandchildren in order to bring some happy and harmless make-believe into their lives and make no apology for that.

I also do not apologise for the other mundane white lies that I have told in my life. I understand that there are times when a situation demands that you be a straight-shooter. However, if I am able to sugar-coat something in order to spare someone’s feelings, I will do so. Therefore, I will continue “cooing” over every new born baby even if the occasional infant is dead ugly!

Of course, some lies are not acceptable and should fall into the forbidden basket. These cover lies which are told with malicious intent to benefit the liar or hurt another. This self-serving category of deception is never justified and is populated by con artists, cheats, fraudsters and scammers who constantly lie through their teeth.

I put a premium on being truthful. However, committing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth every second of every day is not plausible. Dishonesty is not my calling card, nor should it be yours. But white lies oil the wheels of human interaction, protect us from the harsh unvarnished truth and help make life smoother.

And that, Pinocchio, is the God damn truth!

Regards

Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting