There are very few certainties in life. However, one certainty is that at some point in the not too distant future people will start asking questions about the current health emergency and how it has been handled.
Were Western politicians or indeed any other politicians fully aware of the implications of Coronavirus as far back as early January? Were they as open and transparent as they should have been? Have they done enough? Have they done the right things at the right time? Could they have done more? What is being done to protect the world economy?
Could ordinary individuals have done more? Has anyone been tardy or negligent? Did anybody misinterpret something and if so why? Have we learnt anything useful? Will “the truth” come out or indeed will “we” ever get to the bottom of things? Will we have jobs to go back to? To what extent will the international economy be affected and how might it recover? What further remedial measures might be needed?
Along with the questions comes the vexed question of apportioning blame. The combination of history and current experience should tell us that in the wake of a pandemic which has resulted in illness, severe hardship and very significant loss of life, there will be a lot of anger and emotion. Doubtless, driven by the media, it is likely that across the board people will be very ready to point the finger. History should teach us that playing “the blame game” will result in defensiveness, hasty decision making and an inconclusive, potentially fudged outcome and may well enable those responsible to escape without proper scrutiny or accountability.
In my view the British record on commissions of inquiry is not the greatest. The current child abuse and the Bloody Sunday inquiries appear to have become mired in procedural niceties and to be driven by a combination of political pressures and the all-pervading blame culture. This has rendered them ponderous and long winded and I strongly suspect that we may ultimately end up with complex and rather inconclusive final reports that satisfy no one.
The best practical enquiry model that I can think of was the very significantly titled “truth and reconciliation commission” that was convened in post-Apartheid South Africa by Arch bishop Desmond Tutu. This commission was by no means averse to finding out who did what to whom and naming names but by basing a lot of its work around the all-important concept of “reconciliation” it seems to me that it was able to focus on getting at the truth rather than playing the blame game. Adopting this ethos meant that in many instances, although victims of past wrongdoing found the process of giving their accounts to Bishop Tutu’s commissioned to be quite exacting, they were properly listened to. Good quality evidence was collated which meant that in a fair and balanced way, wrongdoers could be questioned in a fair and transparent manner. In turn this meant that in many instances, justice was not only done but was seen to be done and I suspect that notwithstanding the emergence of a worldwide Tutu foundation network, the very significant achievement of the bishop and his colleagues has been grossly underestimated.
The critical thinking ethos that has been used very effectively in a number of quite radically different scenarios by my esteemed colleague, Roy van den Brink Budgen is the very antithesis of the blame game. Instead, in a manner very reminiscent of the underlying principles of mediation, it engages and encourages dialogue, participation and listening.
However, critical thinking is not something that exists in some sort of idealistic vacuum – rather because it is a neutral concept devoid of any “top down” approach, it facilitates meaningful participation and engenders real communication. It brings out the best in very difficult situations and helps participants to focus on identifying what really matters. In turn, critical thinking engenders an atmosphere in which those who have been engaging with it can focus on meaningful and realistic problem solving.
Critical thinking is as effective in the political sphere as it is in an educational, commercial or a community setting. As very ably utilised by Roy, it is very consistent with the principles of truth and reconciliation pioneered by Bishop Tutu and in my view at least provide a very workable basis for conducting what might be termed “post Coronavirus enquiries”.
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