In earlier blogs, we shared our hypothesis that societies and individuals are more resilient to cope with the COVID-19 crisis when they reconcile opposing values like rules vs. exceptions, short-term vs. long-term, and being in control vs. going with the flow. In this blog, we concentrate on the neutral vs. affective orientations, and how the joining of both can lead to better results.
In all societies, we have emotions and we seem to have different needs to express them. Expressions like “stiff upper lip” for the English, the iceman for the Fins, and the passionate Italian are well known. And it is quite obvious that cultures that express emotions by continuous touching, hugging and shouting are more sensitive to spread the virus than those that keep distance physically and metaphorically.
In order to measure the degree to which we tend to express emotions or inhibit them, we asked more than 500 users from various countries through our Corona Resilience app to respond to the following statement on a sliding scale of “Agree” to “Disagree”: In my society, it is unprofessional to show emotions overtly.
The spread of scores in the percentage of agreement with the statement is amazing. We see in the below graph that only 22% of the Italians agree with the statement, while 79% of the Swiss do so.
But what implications could this have for the spread of and the fight against the virus? At first sight, it is clear that the spread would be much stimulated by a combination of communitarian and affective orientations. Good examples are Brazil, Italy, Spain and Iran, where many people live together in relatively small spaces and are used to touching each other frequently at least more so than the English and Northern Europeans tend to do. But this is rather obvious and at first glance could be related to the spread. Unfortunately, we cannot yet give this empirical evidence because countries are in different stages of the pandemic.
Reason vs. Emotion
But much more interesting is the fight between reason and emotion in many of the approaches we are taking to fight the virus. The media blows up the horns of this dilemma in great proportions. We see scientists having great discussions with laypersons about what should be done and what not. Public opinion is often highly emotional and in crucial situations, like crises, often wins.
IQ vs. EQ
Northern European countries have been very clear about the fact that the actions taken to fight COVID-19 are foremost based on rational criteria developed by scientists. So for them, intelligence quotient (IQ) dominates emotional quotient (EQ).
Cool and rational interventions in Formula 1
A perfect illustration of a purely rational proposal without any emotional empathy came from Helmut Marko, technical advisor for Red Bull’s Formula One racing team. He put forward a plan to bring all Red Bull racecar drivers together in the hope that they would catch the coronavirus during the season break, and then be immune during the season. “That was not received positively,” said Marko to the Austrian public broadcaster ÖRF.
As Marko explained, they would hold a camp where they could bridge time mentally and physically. Then it would be ideal, because these are very young, strong, healthy men who would then be well prepared for the World Championship.
Marko was also a strong supporter of the Australian Grand Prix. Ultimately, the first race of the season was canceled after a coronavirus infection was found within the McLaren F1 team. The Formula 1 season has since come to a halt and there is no prospect of the start yet.
Passionate statements by Brazil’s president
On the other end of the spectrum, emotional and passionate overtones were heard by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
Ignoring any fact-based messages from the World Health Organization or other renowned institutes, Bolsonaro posted videos to Twitter expressing doubts about the usefulness and necessity of quarantine measures in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. One video showed the president meeting people on the street in the city of Brasilia, showing that he was not following the stay-at-home measure. Another video showed Bolsonaro saying, “What I’ve been able to discuss with people is that they want to work. They have to be careful and people over 65 stay at home.”
Twitter has removed the two videos from Bolsonaro’s official account for violating “the rules” of the social media channel, explaining, “Twitter recently announced worldwide that it will tighten its rules to take into account content that may conflict with public health and which could increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
Brazil’s federal court also banned all social media posts against the corona measures. For example, everything with the hashtag #obrasilnãopodeparar (#BrazilCannotStop) is being removed.
Passion is taking over from logic and it is just waiting for disaster.
Belarus president says to just keep going
Get on a tractor and work the land. That is what Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko advises his people do during the coronavirus crisis.
Lukashenko, who was director of a state farm before he became president, is not concerned about the virus that is slowly spreading in his country. According to him, it is a “delusion” that will do more damage to the country than the virus itself.
At a recent cabinet meeting that was broadcast by state television, Lukashenko said that his country has survived other viruses and advised viewers to work in the countryside. “No one talks about the virus there,” he explained. “The tractor heals everything, the fields heal everything.”
Other advice from the authoritarian president, who has been in power in Belarus for 26 years, is to go to the sauna regularly: according to him, the virus does not survive there. Or play a game of ice hockey. “You don’t have viruses here; I don’t see them,” said the president cheerfully after taking part in an ice hockey game.
The Belarus people love their president because he supports their emotions. But let’s see what the scientists say and the data in countries that ignored rationality.
Bring emotion and reason together for a better fight
Initially, schools were kept open in the Netherlands. The rational argument against closing schools was that younger people have a significantly less chance of getting serious consequences from the infection and that together they will develop group immunity. These risks were taken as controlled risks protecting the more fragile older people against the virus. Makes sense.
But what happened a week later? Many emotional outbursts followed by the teachers union as well as by the opposition political parties. In crises, emotions win. So Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte announced that schools will be closed because they needed to be tougher in their measures.
What does it teach us in view of the reconciliation between rationality and emotions (“Thinking” vs. “Feeling” as MBTI coined it)? In the Netherlands, Rutte reconciled the issue quite smartly. He changed the policy and emphasized the importance of following the progressive scientific insights of the scientists in virology and epidemiology whilst listening to what the citizens told him.
The results are astonishing. The last couple of years the liberal political party of Rutte lost a significant amount of voters. After the interventions, including the closing of the schools, Rutte’s approach seems to work amazingly well. His reconciliation of IQ and EQ by using the famous expression of “progressive insight” gave him an enormous boost in votes. Even the most aggressive political parties are losing votes to this great integration of Rationale and Emotion. Perhaps the best cocktail against the virus.
Free Self-Test: The Corona Resilience Test App
There are more aspects to Corona Resilience than simply assessment of neutral versus affective orientations that our national institutions stimulate. Use the Corona Resilience app to explore our integrated approach based on our extensive research and consulting practice in how to test your resilience against the virus. This app enables you to quickly assess your individual and your society’s Corona Resilience Profile and gives you some personalized feedback and explanation of our methodology.
To download, go to www.thtapps.com/corona.