No doubt like many of you, I have spent the last few days trying to get my head around the Government’s latest response to
And I’ve concluded that, when it comes to this pandemic, politicians are from Mars, voters are from Venus.
If you’re of my generation you will no doubt remember John Gray’s pop-psychology blockbuster, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
First published in 1992, it succeeded because it rang true.
No doubt like many of you, I have spent the last few days trying to get my head around the Government’s latest response to coronavirus (pictured, Boris Johnson)
Despite the many objections from those who thought it simplistic and sexist, Gray’s observations nevertheless resonated with ordinary people.
In particular he argued that the conflict between the sexes can be attributed in large part to the fact that men and women react in different ways to the same situations – and that each finds the other’s approach hard, if not occasionally impossible, to understand.
Perhaps the most famous example of this is the complaint, by men, that when women are unhappy about something, they are often more interested in talking about the problem than finding a practical solution.
This is something men, Gray argued, find very frustrating, as they are hardwired to respond in practical, proactive ways and can’t compute all this need for time-consuming chit-chat.
For their part, far from welcoming a practical solution to their worries, women interpret this as fundamentally unsympathetic, which in turn alienates the men even further to the point where they shut down and retreat to their ‘man cave’, either real or metaphorical.
If you’re of my generation you will no doubt remember John Gray’s pop-psychology blockbuster, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (pictured, John Gray)
This, I fear, is where the Government currently finds itself: sitting in a shed at the bottom of the garden with a single-bar heater and a lukewarm cup of tea, wondering why on earth the electorate is glaring at them across the hydrangeas and their dinner is in the dog.
After all, Ministers think gloomily to themselves as they polish their power tools and fiddle with the dial on the old, paint-stained analogue radio, we’ve have been trying our best.
We’ve been working around the clock protecting lives. All the measures that have been put in place have been devised with the clear and simple intention of driving the infection rate down and safeguarding frontline NHS services.
Isn’t that the right and responsible thing to do? Isn’t that the ONLY thing to do? The answer is, of course, yes. And no. Yes, that is, if you happen to be from Mars and take a straightforward, linear approach to combating the virus.
No, by contrast, if you’re from Venus, and you recognise that there are many other elements in play – from the economy to jobs to education to the wider mental health of the nation – and that these matter just as much, if not more so, in the long term.
For what it’s worth, there is no doubt in my mind that the Government – of which my husband is of course a member – has the very best of intentions. They absolutely mean it when they say they don’t WANT to have to do any of this.
As to all these nonsense conspiracy theories about creating a police state, they are just that: nonsense.
No, the problem is not sincerity of action. It’s lack of sensitivity.
The Cabinet is behaving like a man who, having noted his wife’s complaints about the housework, concludes that instead of buying her a new pair of earrings for Christmas, he’ll get her a nice new Hoover instead.
Or someone who, in response to his girlfriend’s repeated assertions that she is overweight (even though he can’t really see it and anyway loves her just the way she is) gets her a gym membership. Yes, logically these things make sense. But it will end in tears.
The truth is that the Government can argue until it’s blue in the face all the reasons why this bitter medicine is good for us.
But what good is eliminating the virus if at the same time you also eliminate the patient? And there are many – including the readers of this newspaper who write to me – who feel that life without love, work, friends, fun and freedom is just not worth it.
Of course, if it came down to it, they would be devastated if they or a loved one fell ill and were turned away for treatment because hospitals had become overwhelmed. And the Government has a responsibility to see that doesn’t happen.
Equally, however justifiable all these decisions may look on paper, Ministers must not forget that people are not numbers.
They are messy, complicated and often deeply irrational. This, I know, is very frustrating for politicians. But there’s no good ignoring it. It’s not going away.
It is a fundamental mistake to think that all we are dealing with here is a virus. In some ways that is a straightforward challenge. Test, trace, find a vaccine, cure. Hard, yes, painful, yes – but clear.
Far more complex and opaque is working out how to deal with the people affected by the virus, the human beings, their lives, their hopes, their dreams and disappointments.
It is in that department that the Government is floundering. It needs to show not only that it understands people’s desperation, but that it has plans to tackle it.
Instead, it just keeps shutting the argument down. Retreating, and going on the defensive.
This is not only counterproductive, it’s pointless. Because if there’s one thing no one, however powerful, can deny, it’s human nature.
That, for me, is the biggest misconception in Government and the reason why lockdowns/tiers are so problematic.
We are being asked to do the impossible, that is to say deny the existence of a fundamental human spirit.
Blinded by the science and the maths, our Government – and foreign governments – have come up with a solution that requires the people to do the one thing they have no hope of ever doing: stop being human.
Stop loving, caring, crying, missing, laughing, feeling, misbehaving, having fun. Become robotic, unquestioning, unemotional zombies willing to comply unquestioningly with every directive.
In a despotic dictatorship like China, you have some chance of success. But in an open, democratic nation like Britain, which prides itself on its capacity for independent thinking and freedom of speech, you have no chance.
Unless you are prepared to enforce compliance, you only have one other weapon at your disposal: empathy. In other words, less Mars, more Venus.
Empathy in situations such as these isn’t just helpful, it’s essential. Because if you are trying to get people to do things they really don’t want to do, it is no good simply bashing them over the head with cold hard logic and issuing fines.
You have to sympathise, listen and show you understand.
The humiliation of losing a job. The pain and anger of seeing years of hard work destroyed almost overnight.
The anguish and heartbreak of not being able to say goodbye to a dying relative.
Even the comparatively unimportant fact of not being able to celebrate the end of school.
Large and small, these are all human experiences that have a huge bearing on the psychological health of the nation.
Trying to pretend they don’t matter doesn’t make them go away. It just makes the resentment deeper.
In his book, John Gray did not argue that either approach was better than the other; he merely pointed out that if couples wanted to function more successfully in their relationships, it was important to acknowledge and take account of these basic differences. For each side to acknowledge the other’s point of view.
I’d say so far, the public have been more than accommodating. Ministers can’t hide in the shed for ever. It’s time to talk and, more importantly, listen.