Good advice


Recently I’ve read a bit about motivated cognition. Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor at Yale Law School, says “Motivated cognition refers to the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal.”

That’s not quite like saying that we rationalize the decisions we make in order to escape judgment upon ourselves, but it does go some way toward explaining why people I admire might think it fine to have Super Bowl gatherings this weekend, despite what the Premier of our province and the Minister of Health advised.

I have to admit that we all do it. We justify our decisions according to our beliefs. Adjust our beliefs according to what we want to be the case. Let such beliefs determine our behaviors. Rationalize our behaviors accordingly. It’s only human. It’s understandable

But, it’s also understandable that people who are staying home, following Covid regulations, and renouncing visits with loved ones, are irritated by those who disobey the guidelines, and especially irritated when those who flout the rules are always claiming exceptional circumstances and assuring others that they’re being very safe.

What to do? What to say? I believe our Provincial Medical Health Officer is right in encouraging us to be kind, to forgive, and to understand that most of us are following the rules most of the time.

Shakespeare said: The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. (Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1.)

The Bible tells us that God maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthews 5:45).

Good advice, all of this.

And yet, I cannot help also remembering what George Orwell wrote in his essay Facing Unpleasant Facts: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”

The truth is, we know the virus is spreading. The truth is, we know that people are the spreaders. The truth is, we know that our government is unable to stop the spread, except by imposing much more extreme lockdown measures.

Let’s restate the obvious: It’s up to us! Tuum est, all you Latin scholars and UBC graduates.

And, at the same time, let’s be merciful and blessed, and kind, to the unjust as well as the just. And let’s be honest enough to acknowledge that we’re all sometimes guilty of motivated cognition and the behaviours that result.

Besides, the sun is shining, and it feels as though spring is just around the corner.

Sound the flute!
Now it’s mute!
Birds delight,
Day and night,
In the dale,
Lark in sky, –
Merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.

 William Blake, Songs of Innocence

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