If there is one thing that we recognised from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the unwillingness of people to accept reality. Several months into the situation, there are still large groups of people who live in denial that the virus is a threat to our health and lives. The denial is visible on the streets, as people refuse to wear masks when told to do so, or large groups of people gather for anti-corona demonstrations. How come that these people cannot accept reality? And what can we learn from this in a far more important crisis that is unfolding while we look the other way?
Please also read: Never waste a crisis!
Handling your own truth with denial and rationalism
CNN recently published an article on the psychological reasoning of people in Covid-19 denial. An interview with two psychologists addresses the issue of denial, and why people develop such a viewpoint. As the psychologists state, denial is a way for people to deal with constructs of reality. It is simply a defence mechanism of our mind to avoid anxiety. In uncertain periods, people perceive anxiety and pressure. In order to reduce that, the body develops a way to feel more secure and safe. One of these ways is by simply denying the existence of the threat. This leads to statements such as: “…this pandemic is a hoax.” Others accept that the threat exists, but convince themselves that the severity of the threat can be neglected. This form of rationalisation can lead to statements like: “…the corona virus is just another flu.”
A crisis beyond our understanding
This form of denial is also recognisable when we talk about a crisis much worse than corona, the climate crisis. The current trends of climate change are clearly indicating that the earth’s temperature is rising. In itself not a bad thing, some might say. Rationalised arguments could be that it’s warmer in summer indeed, but also colder in winter in other places. Yet, the fact that our overheating climate results in these extreme weather conditions is not accepted as reality by some. And the situation is not becoming easier, when conflicting research is showing opposite results. Its is therefore very understandable that people cannot begin to image the impact climate change will have on our future, let alone our daily lives. But by simply denying or rationalising climate change, we create a dangerous situation for ourselves.
How can we turn the tides?
A question with a double meaning, as our sea levels continue to rise. As the psychologists explain to CNN, it is important to provide people in denial fact-based information that contradict their viewpoint. Bit by bit, starting with information that is not immediately threatening people. Important is to also provide information on what to do about it. This will help the people to learn about the reality and to accept it.
The young generation is asking more questions than ever before, and information is available when one looks. It has become cool to want to know where our clothes are made, where our food comes from, and potentially who or what has been damaged in the development process. Because of the complicated state of affairs, we’re simply forced to ask questions.
Another thing that will help in this process is optimism. We often have a tendency to present climate change as an inevitable, dark future that lies ahead of us, which we cannot escape. This may be true for the most part but even in such dark times, we can find some positive news on how to adapt our economy and lives on how to cope with climate change and a carbon free emission century. If we manage to rephrase this into positive messages that encourage people to take action to mitigate climate change, it will become much easier to overcome the climate crisis denial phase. So let us share the positive news and help others to understand the need to act against climate change. Let us have a thirst for knowledge, and an interest to understand the world as it truly is. This is the only way to bring positive change for the sake of us and all the future generations.