Lockdown and Stockholm Syndrome

by Martin MacConnol – May 28, 2020

“I’m having a lovely lock-down.” I’ve had a couple of friends say this now, and it’s started to worry me.

It worries me as a company boss. I fear many of us are experiencing something like Stockholm Syndrome due to the virus. We have been kidnapped by lock-down and we are now starting to fall in love with the situation.

OK: before you get angry, I know a lot of people are not falling in love. If you are juggling childcare and work, if you are dealing with ill loved ones, if your role’s been made redundant, lock-down is likely to be hell.

But a huge number of people are not in that position. And some are clearly feeling their working lives have improved with the crisis. Not only is there no boring sweaty commute, but there are also no colleagues leaning over the desk with their “could you just” requests. There is a chance to ‘really focus’.

And in our home lives too, lock-down is the ultimate 21st century ‘Bunbury’ (a genius creation of Oscar Wilde’s). In lock-down you have a government-issue excuse not to make that tiring journey to see friends and family: “I’d love to come and see you auntie, but you know, lock-down and all that…”. People can be just a bit more selfish, a bit more inward looking. From the conversations I’ve been having I reckon that suits many. I’m no hypocrite: I can see it in me too.

All this is a real problem for businesses and for our economy. In an individual company, the reality of team members starting to behave like freelancers rather than employees is that other people have to pick up the slack. Not only can that cause companies to wobble it also starts to call into question the value of roles that were previously thought important. It makes shrinkage more likely, with all the negative effects that this brings when multiplied across the UK and world.

If some people are starting to experience Stockholm Syndrome I consider the media to be inadvertently part of the hostage-taking team. Good journalism is all about “man bites dog” stories, not “dog bites man”. Covid-19 offers rich pickings for the grimly unusual. There’s been some truly brilliant journalism which brings home the individual tragedy behind every Covid-19 death. The BBC should win multiple awards for its insights into life and death on Covid wards.

But, but, but… I find myself strangely reminded of a quote of Stalin’s: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” The media is shining a spotlight on the individual tragedies that are the Covid statistics. They are terrifying us.

In truth there are a lot of other statistics (heart disease, cancer, domestic abuse, suicide) that have horrific individual stories behind them. They’re just not newsworthy in the same way, and so people are left fixated on the risks of Covid. For most of us our chance of dying of Covid is still vanishingly small.

I’m not saying Covid-19 is not a real problem. I am saying that it is not the only problem. And I think people who fall in love with the warm mud of lock-down will find themselves horrified by impacts which, as yet, are merely regarded as statistics not individual tragedies.

Published May 28, 2020

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