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Revisiting COVID-19 Policy: A Psychological Perspective on Consideration and Compassion

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What if this virus . . . can teach us a little about holding contradictory ideas once again? What if it can allow us to see that we’re not as stupid as our political parties want us to be, or as unidirectional as our TV channels seem to think we are? A purple America is a far more interesting one than the red or blue one that some insist on. What time demands now is a new form of contrapuntal thinking. We do not need to simplify. We need to scruff things up. We need to be brave enough to reach across the aisle. And the voices that really matter will be the ones that come from underneath, not above . .–Colum McCann

[Note: early in 2020, I published an essay concerning policies that were being or could be enacted in response to the emerging COVID-19 health care crisis. I focused in particular on policies in the United States, but considered the issues surfaced to be relevant in all countries. Now, one year later, I wish to review the ways in which policies in this arena were and were not engaged. We have much to learn from this brief history, as we continue to address the COVID-19 challenge—and more importantly prepare to manage pandemic crises in the future in a more effective manner.

The millions of infections and many hundred thousand deaths related to COVID-19 speak tragically to the failure of countries throughout the world to deal effectively with the current virus. From this failure we can chose to sit back and hope either that there will be no future virus or that somehow things will be better the next time. We can instead spend time and energy identifying the people who made the mistakes. We can blame them and punish them for their arrogance and ignorance.

There is a third option. We can choose to learn from our collective mistakes. As those who are advocating the creation of learning organizations and learning societies have noted, we are not “stupid” when we make a mistake, but we are “stupid” when we continue to make the same mistake (Argyris and Schon, 1978; Senge, 1990). There is no way to avoid making mistakes in a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity—along with turbulence and contradiction (VUCA Plus) (Bergquist, 2020a). The issues surrounding COVID-19 certainly qualify as VUCA Plus challenges and it is naïve to assume that mistakes would not be made. This essay is based on an assumption that the third option must be chosen. We must learn from our mistakes, rather than live in a world of denial, hope without action, or blame.]

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