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I thank both Rajan et al. and Bali et al. for highlighting a lack of inclusivity in the governance of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response.1,2 While the pandemic raises societal concerns, decision-making bodies remain unrepresentative of civil society and suffer from a dearth of diversity – with, for instance, an underrepresentation of women’s perspectives.1,2 I would add that inclusivity may have been thus far derogated by the popular discourse of some traditional, paternalistic leadership – namely, that which is conveyed through wordings worthy of warlords.
“We are at war”, as declared the Director-General of the World Health Organization, before exhorting G20 leaders to “fight like hell” and calling for “aggressive action” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.3 This rhetoric of war echoes that of some men country leaders and scientists, pressing authorities for immediate action. Yet, as metaphors frame the way people act,4 triggering civil and societal responsiveness should instead begin with wordings of compassion, cooperation and emancipation.
First, the rhetoric of war may monopolize the public attention to a unique, imminent goal: mustering all forces to defeat and annihilate an enemy (here, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2) – any other objectives being put aside as under war economy. This imposed monopoly may contrast with population concerns: Do we – civil society – strive merely to exterminate SARS-CoV-2, or rathe...
First, the rhetoric of war may monopolize the public attention to a unique, imminent goal: mustering all forces to defeat and annihilate an enemy (here, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2) – any other objectives being put aside as under war economy. This imposed monopoly may contrast with population concerns: Do we – civil society – strive merely to exterminate SARS-CoV-2, or rather to preserve common societal goods, such as population health and welfare? According to a Danish survey, citizens may be more worried about having their relatives or the society impaired, than about becoming themselves infected by the virus.5 Limiting the spreading of SARS-CoV-2 has a major role in maintaining population health; however, addressing citizens requires a discourse of compassion engaging with their concerns.
Second, the rhetoric of war may imply a form of heroic storytelling: a distinction between heroes (the army of health professionals, who are sent to the frontline to fight the pandemic) and non-heroes (citizens, who are asked to follow orders). Yet, if their position were reconsidered, these excluded followers could play a central role in solving the crisis, for groups of diverse individuals might outperform groups of experts alone on complex problems.6 Funding agencies offer support to scientific environments; citizens should also be encouraged to join their various skills and complement those of health professionals. As learnt from the Ebola crisis, artists could for instance help enhance the clarity of health messages via culturally relevant narratives to the community.7 Hence, the need for a cooperation discourse.
Third, while promoting diversity of perspectives is pivotal to solving complex problems,6 the rhetoric of war may instil the antithetical dogma in the population mind: discipline and obedience to a common thinking. Such war conditions might in fact hinder societal creativity,8 thereby posing a paradox: terming the current societal problem as “war” may repress its own resolution. Non-violent forms of storytelling and public-minded discourses (e.g. in Denmark, “samfundssind” [“community spirit”]) are therefore needed to emancipate and include citizens in building societal responsiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Rajan D, Koch K, Rohrer K, et al. Governance of the Covid-19 response: a call for more inclusive and transparent decision-making. BMJ Global Health 2020; 5(5).
2. Bali S, Dhatt R, Lal A, Jama A, Van Daalen K, Sridhar D. Off the back burner: diverse and gender-inclusive decision-making for COVID-19 response and recovery. BMJ Global Health 2020; 5(5).
3. Organization WH. WHO Director General's remarks at the G20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19 - 26 March 2020. https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-remarks-at....
4. Lakoff G, Johnson M. Metaphors we live by. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press; 1980.
5. Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen. What concerns the Danish population about the corona crisis? 2020. https://healthsciences.ku.dk/coronadata/results/resultat-1/.
6. Hong L, Page SE. Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2004; 101(46): 16385-9.
7. Sonke J, Pesata V. The arts and health messaging: Exploring the evidence and lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak. BMJ Outcomes, 2015. http://s15762.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/BMJ-Outcomes-Article-Co...
8. Simonton DK. Political pathology and societal creativity. Creativity Research Journal 1990; 3(2): 85-99.