Yesterday (30/10/2021) thousands around the country chose to risk spreading Covid-19 in order to decry their ‘perception of lost freedom’. Reflecting on this I feel the need to put my thoughts in writing as I am known to do.

Life is interesting in Aotearoa NZ isn’t it! There is a global pandemic going on as you know, and it’s been threatening us here  for about 18 months. The response here has been understandably a moving feast as new comprehensions and new strategies arise. What was the right response a year ago is now different as the science, trends and other intelligence continue to evolve and inform us.

Appreciatively, in Aotearoa NZ, what we have seen is that the majority of us have happily followed sound advice in order to do the right thing to keep ourselves and others alive. Therefore the protests and sabotage and downright hatred I am seeing is unbelievably distressing. Much of the deplorable accusatory rhetoric directed towards the current government comes with the benefit of hindsight which as we know is a wonderful thing. My favourite meme at the moment in response to this negativity is ‘oh look here comes captain hindsight.’

We here in Aotearoa NZ have a government that, possibly like any other government would have done [I say possibly though as I am not entirely convinced the opposition would have kept us quite so safe], has followed the advice of the most prominent and respected scientists, researchers, cultural advisors, microbiologists, mathematicians and health care professionals in our country. The experts advising those that govern us are avidly, constantly and probably painstakingly at times into the night, consulting collaboratively and  globally in order to provide the right advice. From this advice the Government makes its decisions. Well informed decisions. Not decisions they just make up in their heads over night.

The problem with folk often is that they too often prefer anecdotal data rather than scientific evidence, we react more to stories than facts and figures. I am a qualitative researcher and totally understand how stories influence knowledge but as a researcher those stories are subjected to in-depth and rigorous analysis seeking a relative truth that is not always generalisable either. Those stories I hold onto are not ones from ‘my neighbour who told me he was magnetised and sticking to the fridge type stories” (PLEEEEASE!).

Therefore I do not understand the hatred and nastiness being directed at our PM and others, who by the way listen to sound evidence in order to report to us the citizens. The hatred is misogynistic, full of envy and at times downright disgusting. For example, the comments about the physical appearance of Jacinda Ardern and Siouxsie Wiles I call to case in particular here. Why do some folk need to comment on their appearance when it’s their brains and minds that impact us?. Those we placed in the positions of power to lead us in our country are thoughtful, articulate and hardworking. I honestly wonder what it is about that, that triggers some.

Let’s be realistic here, it wouldn’t matter which government was in power we would have been told to mask up, scan in and get vaccinated. Other parties, however, may not have rescued small insignificant businesses the way this one with a social conscience has. They haven’t always got it right or been so timely about it, the response to Māori vaccination rates is a case in point but they are getting there. It’s a mammoth task and a moving feast. The opposition I suspect would have cared only for the rich. Interestingly those leading and driving the hatred here do seem to be the rich and privileged don’t they?

I personally have been subjected to some pretty nasty crap on line as I care to, and am driven by my passion and social conscience, challenge the erroneous rhetoric out there. The most recent has been comparing our lives in Aotearoa NZ to that of the holocaust. That in itself is disgusting, how dare one do this. We have freedom the Jews never knew; our lives are not subjected to torture and imposed death. It’s a lamentable comparison indeed.

Nevertheless, we can make some comparisons at this time to the notion of war in that we are fighting a battle with a virus. In war a government would tell us how to behave, to put up those blackout curtains, to wear those gas masks, to hide away in bunkers. Would we have protested those directives? We are in a safe country right now, one of the safest in the world. I feel for those who have lost jobs but like any pandemic or other global crises there will be victims. What is appalling is that there will be more victims potentially caused by those who choose to flout the rules and protest and sabotage and avoid vaccination.

By the way I respect one’s choice not to vaccinate but that choice, like many choices one makes to avoid health advice, comes with consequences in a global pandemic. Those who choose not to must face those consequences. If I chose not to wear a seat belt there are actual and potential consequences if a risky moment comes my way. That is life in a country where the government is working hard to protect its citizens. Its basic ethic is that of utilitarianism with the greatest good for the greatest number, they can do nothing else. In doing what they are doing they are seeking to benefit the majority yet protect the minority who can’t – by the way those that cannot are very small in numbers aside from our kids under 11 years . Any government must adhere to this in order to keep its citizens alive paying taxes etc. To accuse them of wanting to destroy the citizens by injecting us with poisons and such like is so ludicrous as without us what are they, who pays the taxes? See how fundamentally flawed that thinking is as a starting point!

To return to the feature headline of this blog, those who choose to protest. I read recently in a presentation by Toby Morris[1], a clever man who has been working hard to educate us simply about current Covid affairs, Toby cartooned about the ‘Dunning Kruger Effect’ where the limits of our own intelligence mean we overestimate our own brain power. In short most of us aren’t smart enough to judge how smart others are. You see scientists spend their lives researching client change or vaccines etc and we still think we know better. Toby also wrote about ‘Occam’s razor’ which essentially is a philosophical principle that basically states that the least complicated explanation is usually the right one. We get drawn into the drama of convoluted conspiracies, but the truth is usually mundane. Vaccine’s work – that’s well proven – we don’t see kids in polio callipers nowadays. Kids don’t die from MMR complications anymore. Climate change is real. It’s not the dreams of a few greenies. The earth is not flat, we have seen it from space, and I have never fallen off the edge in my travels. Sorry!

From a personal perspective I have had numerous negative comments directed towards me regarding why I write so much about this and why I argue with those who are spouting erroneous tales on social media. Well primarily, I didn’t do a PhD in mental health to become silent. I must use the skills I learnt to explore best practice and then to educate. That is my life’s work. My mantra I learned from a guru named Daryl, a wise older Māori man, is to see “ a moment of ignorance as a teachable moment.” I learnt in my education how to explore scientific evidence, how to weed out good evidence from poorly constructed, and at times downright false data. Anyone undertaking a higher degree will have learnt how to do this although I happily acknowledge you don’t need a degree to know how to do this as many of the remarkable folk I follow just know why that is important. They know how to weed out fact from fiction. Others choose to go down the rabbit hole and do not seem to be able to dig themselves back out.

As a health professional and academic who teaches about the social determinants of health, about cultural safety and about research and evidence I have a duty to not remain silent in the face of adversity, lies, corruption and downright hatred. Some nights I sit in sadness at how very often those who should know better, sit complaining about their perceived loss of freedom from their flash houses, and privileged positions, drinking their fine wine from crystal glasses. What makes me even more sad is that with privilege comes power and that power is used to coerce and misinform those who are less knowledgeable and less privileged. Back to Toby here where he reminded us of ‘Identity protective cognition’ which explains how our brains are wired to selectively accept or dismiss information in order to preserve socio-economic structures that are beneficial to us. That’s why  wealthy conservatives deny climate change, some rich privileged men don’t see the gender pay gap and racism is so hard to explain. Sometimes denial is convenient.

One day, when I hope we are through this I implore the strength of the right voices in this country to also hold the media to account. The constant negativity and headline click baiting is disgusting and is impacting our mental health so much more than any pandemic might do. Those appalling reporters and others must be held to a personal account. Some days I cannot bare to open the news.

Thankfully, I have some online erudite and compassionate ‘friends’ (you know who you are) whose thoughtful ramblings keep me sane. I have  family and friends who have chosen to protect themselves and see that their role in this battle is to seek to do the right thing. I have a wonderful spouse who works tirelessly in emergency health on the front line protecting those who are impacted.

So no! I will never be silenced or silent. I applaud our country’s efforts; I thank our advisors and leaders for doing the best job they could ever do in such an incredible time in history. I have not had my freedom taken from me, if anything I am freer than most of the rest of the world because I have a government who cares. My whanau and friends are  safe and alive thanks to them. My friends in other parts of the world have all suffered losses in their whanau and friend groups. We have, as you know, suffered few here comparatively.

So hey, lets believe the science, it is evidence based it is not a few skewed stats printed on some cheap newsprint. It is sound, its rigorous and it is right at the time we act on it. Let’s believe and trust those who are informed by that science in order to keep our country viable. Our response isn’t always perfect it is an evolving feat but at least it is evolving and despite what others say we are doing so well.

Keep safe, keep happy and count your blessings as they truly are many here in Aotearoa.

Gratefully yours

Dr Chris Taua

[1] Toby Morris The pencil Sword#38 Denial