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Exiting Covid-19: Changing our relationship with the future

In my lengthy blog post yesterday, I talked about what the exit narrative for New Zealand may look like now we know more about the vaccination strategy.

Thinking further about this, what I’ve realised is that the task is about changing New Zealanders’ relationship with the future.

Let me explain.

When the pandemic started, it disrupted our present. First slowly, but then this sped up to a point where we needed to take swift and massive action. This also rapidly spread to our future. It became foggy and uncertain. Even for those with the most precarious of lives, things most likely got worse.

This uncertainty also came along with fear of the unknown. What was going to happen? Were we going to die? Were our families going to die? How would we survive if the virus threatened our businesses and jobs?

This fear manifested itself in the anxiety many felt about their futures.

I’ve long argued that structure and empathy have been very helpful in guiding us through the pandemic so far. Structure has helped to increase predictability and to contain this fear. But there has always been a sense of a “holding pattern”, until we developed technologies such as vaccines and medical treatments that turned the tide in humanity’s favour.

This moment is here. It’s unfolding now. There will be jolts, bumps, and mis-steps. But where there was massive uncertainty, the unpredictable gaps in our futures are now starting to be filled in.

Our relationship with the future is changing. We need to articulate this better.

If they are well-deployed, vaccines have the potential to dispel fear and to increase our sense of hope. A cautious and pragmatic hope at first, but hope nonetheless.

And with hope, comes vision, motivation and desire for our futures, as opposed to this fear of the unknown.

Positive communications focusing on the benefits that vaccines can give us can go hand-in-hand with continued messages about how we carry on safeguarding each other if the risk of community spread of Covid-19 arises again.

Make no mistake, the unknowns are still out there. And for many, positive communications about vaccine benefits will need to be measured against policy gaps about how people bridge the gaps between sufficient vaccine coverage of the population, and what happens next for border openings and other re-engagement with whatever a more usual life might look like.

So, changing our relationship with the future from fear to one of pragmatic hope is the task at hand, and continued messaging about how we collectively safeguard communities against risk of uncontrolled Covid-19 infection as we move towards effective vaccine coverage.

One issue that will dominate public conversation will be about how we assist those with problems of living as we move towards this future. Mental health services alone can’t fix lack of money, or people worrying about debt and their businesses failing.

This is another challenge. And it needs to be met quickly.

More about that in an upcoming blog.

 

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