Saturday, 23 May 2020

The pandemic and cancer are not stories of war



I came across this great article which so resonated with me (i). The few times I have been able to listen to the news I have heard Boris Johnson talk about us being 'at war', the 'frontline' staff and the 'army of volunteers'. None of that sat comfortably with me. Yes it makes us only too aware that the situtation is very serious but...

In the article in Open Democracy, Professor Hanna Meretoja in Finland writes: "to talk about patients “battling for their lives” risks implying that those who survive fought so hard that they made it, whilst those who fail to survive lost their battle because their fighting spirit wasn’t strong enough."

She then likens it to her own experinces of cancer, where the military metaphor is so embedded in our culture. I wrote about this very same issue a while back in my blog 'The Dangers of a Single Story' - and even made the draft of a short film with my cousin about the battle metaphors. See those here (ii).

I have found it fascinating that there is no research that says a strong fighting spirit would help us to survive either cancer or for that matter, I assume, the coronavirus. Indeed the very opposite is true; this paper by David Hauser from last August concludes that "Battle metaphors undermine cancer treatment and prevention and do not increase vigilance" (iii).

So we should not be praising those who survice the virus or cancer for winning 'a successful battle', anymore than those who die should be blamed for not fighting hard enough. When we look at the facts survival is about a host of reasons like access to treatments, our immune systems and so much more.

As, Hanna goes onto say our health workers are not soldiers; "what healthcare professionals practice is care, not war...The narrative of war is used as a legitimizing discourse. Wars inevitably have casualties. Wars require sacrifice. The narrative of war heroes is used to justify putting health workers at risk. It distracts us from structural inequalities, including the high exposure of low-paid women to the virus."

And what the heck! Where is the Personal Protective Equipment, protectiuon in care homes and proper salaries for our workers?

By focusing on the situation as a war means we miss the chance to consider the complexities - whether that is the pandemic or cancer. Here's Hanna again: "Instead of seeing the pandemic in terms of destructive and divisive narratives like the “survival of the fittest” or nations competing in the war against the virus, shouldn’t we see it as a lesson on the fragility of life? The Queen asks us “to take pride” in the British response to the crisis, but isn't this a time when humility takes us further? If we turn away from the narrative of war, we can envision how a new global awareness of mutual dependency could give rise to a stronger sense of solidarity, which may help us build a more socially - and environmentally-just world for future generations.

"The future of humankind depends on the path we decide to take, and that path largely depends on how we narrate the pandemic and the lessons to be drawn from it as we move forward. Let’s make sure these narratives hold open the possibility we now have to leave behind an unsustainable way of life and to imagine a world based on solidarity and care".

Yes the power of storytelling - it does make a difference how we talk about the pandemic or cancer.



Notes

(i) https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/stop-narrating-pandemic-story-war/
(ii) https://myunexpectedguide.blogspot.com/2019/01/dangers-of-single-story.html
(iii) https://psyarxiv.com/a6bvd/

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