During Covid-19, discussions are slipping towards confrontation – who is to blame for doing or for not doing something, what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is not. The way we talk to each other strikes me as depressing, and at times even cruel. Particularly online discussions follow ghastly rhetoric that seems only be getting worse. It’s “if you are not with me, you are against me”.
We have witnessed similarly gloomy communication in politics, where people give each other the harshest personal blows to undermine their trustworthiness. Think about Donald Trump telling Joe Biden in a presidential debate: ”There’s nothing smart about you, Joe”, continuing that “in 47 years, you’ve done nothing.” (Caldera 2020). Nice, aye?
Why bring this up? The way we speak to each other is crucial, because we influence, and are influenced by others. Aristotle and other philosophers following him posit that the art of persuasion, or rhetoric, consists of ideas (logos), emotions (pathos), and the morality of the speaker (ethos). It is the last, ethos, that is now under attack. It seems no more matter what is said if you can with strong – and negative – emotional communication direct attention to all the shortcomings a person has, and thereby undermine his or her credibility.
I am arguing that the focus on personal characteristics distracts us from what we should be focusing on: content. At the same time, we need to accept that there are few absolute universal truths in science because of the many factors playing in. Particularly during a new situation, such as a previously unknown pandemic, we should remember that science is a winding path of trial and error during which knowledge evolves. What was held true yesterday may not apply today, because we are capable of critically assessing evidence and drawing new conclusions accordingly.
Think about the title in Kauppalehti’s column on the 21st of October 2020, freely translated as “Whatever you do during a pandemic, you are shit”. This column collects headlines with opposing advice for the public regarding Covid-19. Sure, witty, but is this really what we want to convey to people? That media knows nothing? That scientists know nothing? That we are playing a lose-lose game where there are no good choices? One would wish for a bit of hope amidst all the bad news.
One way to keep spirits up is focusing on what we are doing well and what could be improved. We are in this together and can get through this together, not by playing against each other. My advice is: keep your eyes on the ball. And the ball is living our lives, now, today. Not tomorrow or when other people think more like us.
You could blame me for naivety for taking this stance for positivity. A Facebook friend complained that seemingly intelligent people post office dog photos instead of mentally stimulating posts. Guilty as charged. Personally, I see enough pretty, witty, sarcastic, mean, and sometimes downright evil posts. I much prefer to direct attention to my office dog. So here you go, one more picture: Keep your eyes on the good things – the people (and pets) we love, and the things we can do to create meaning in our lives!
Liikesivistysrahasto Associate Professor in Marketing
Caldera, C. (2020)https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/09/29/presidential-debate-trump-biden-theres-nothing-smart-you/3582861001/
Kauppalehti Optio (2020) Teit pandemiassa mitä tahansa, olet paska. Kolumni 21.10.2020.
Photo: Johanna Gummerus