Why are we so keen to denigrate ourselves?

Why are we so keen to denigrate ourselves?

Who would have known that the numbers of Covid-19 cases in our country are as high as they are because we test far more than other countries?  I didn’t, until my son happened to mention it to me.  Try to look up those statistics and there are very few journalists who have bothered to cover the subject.  Hence, we have this dreadful opinion of ourselves, without putting the statistics in context. 

It seems that we test 3,322,548 per million population where France only tested 1,485,720 and Italy only 1,222,052 per million of population, with Germany only testing 776,198, as of July 14, 2021.  The WHO stated at the beginning of the pandemic that countries should test, test, test.  We were a little slow in starting but now, of course, the criticism is that we are testing too much.  The app pings but it seems that provided you test yourself daily and have a negative result then, you do not have to isolate, so testing is key to keeping the population safe.

Similarly, we do have a high incidence of Covid-19 (partly for the reason that we test more) but actually Cyprus and Gibraltar have more incidences than we do and the Netherlands and Spain are not far behind.  And, according to www.statista.com France has actually been the worst affected country in Europe during this pandemic outbreak, with 5,770,021 confirmed cases.

Our death rate per 100,000 is actually less than Italy’s (UK 191 per 100,000, Italy 211 per 100,000 as of 20 June 2021 quoted by John Hopkins University).  But who would know it?  I have never heard these figures quoted regularly, if at all, on the news programmes I listen to.  Perhaps I listen to the wrong stations?!

The trouble with this lazy reporting, and the lack of will to put numbers into context, is that it leaves our population, and particularly our population of young people, believing that this country is dross and that does neither them nor the country any good.  Sure, we have not got great leaders at the moment but that’s no reason to propagate negative narratives about us as a people.  It serves no purpose other than to demoralise, and a demoralised population tends to give up or, worse, follow some charismatic leader who promises to get us out of the problem.  We don’t have one at the moment but with the culture of identity politics and cancellation, we need to beware if someone emerges to make such promises.  From such beginnings totalitarianism can result.

A young teenager, Alex Wilkie, on Radio 4 last week asked that people do not refer to her generation as “the lost generation” as a result of the Covid-19 impact on their education.  Labels such as these do nothing to inspire such teenagers to fight for improvement, to innovate and create new enterprises, to work hard because they believe there are still opportunities to succeed, despite the pandemic.  To believe in themselves.  For self-belief is crucial to success in any field.

The pandemic has been a shock to the young, I believe.  Their lives had, even if they didn’t know it, been relatively unchallenging compared to some other generations and other geographical regions.  This is their major challenge and it could result in them feeling ‘poor me’ or victimised.   But, as the stoics would say, ‘no tree becomes deep-rooted and sturdy unless strong winds blow against it’.  This pandemic is the equivalent of a strong wind for our younger population and the concept is that within those storms their roots grow stronger and a tree with firm roots is less likely to blow away.  This type of challenge and change can be good for developing resilience in the long term.  So let’s not catastrophise the situation.  Just look around the world to see many others who are suffering more, with no welfare state, no democracy, no fresh water flowing from a tap, and be grateful.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be referred to as a ‘disadvantaged child’ or ‘disadvantaged family’.  Those kind of labels can limit expectations.  They hardly help to make a child or family feel good about themselves.  Those who berate this country for a lack of social mobility are simply reinforcing such inequalities when they stick labels on that can impact a child’s self-image.

Then the media all rounded on the UK as racist after the appalling racist tweets posted after the Euro 2020 penalties.  These were dreadful but a few ghastly people exist in any population of this globe and a minority of people does not make up a whole population.  It turned out from a Guardian report that only 44 of the 585,000 tweets received in the first day or so were racist, and Reuters also reported that the majority, possibly 70%, of racist tweets were generated from outside this country, possibly from a Russian bot.  This was mentioned on the radio after a few days but not before we had all had the chance to feel thoroughly ashamed of ourselves, in believing we were all slung into the same racist barrel as a few of the more unsavoury people who live in our country.

Of course, none of this means we should be complacent.  Of course, we need to do whatever we can to protect people in the pandemic.  Of course, more needs to be done for social mobility and to ensure that racism in whatever form is stamped out and that we come together as a more united population.

And this is my point.  To emphasize our weaknesses, potentially without facts being checked, does not help us get out of the mess we are in after Covid.  To emphasize our divisions, as seems to be the trend at the moment, does not help us all to pull together to feel that this country, and the people within it, are worth fighting for, building businesses for, creating wealth for, creating opportunities.

I have travelled extensively in my career and also for leisure.  We have so much to be grateful for in this country.  I know that racism exists in every country in one form or another and one can experience it as a white person in a majority black country.  I know that xenophobia, poverty, inequality also exist in other countries.  It doesn’t make it right but let’s get things in perspective.  There is no need to believe we are the best of the best but let’s not rush to assume, either, that we are the worst of the worst.

Of course we have to review, analyse and adapt new approaches but when people are endlessly criticised and told they are no good and that everything around them is hopeless, then why would they bother?  We must give our young people, and in fact our middle-aged people too, for their lives can be very tough, hope.  Without hope nothing is achieved.

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  • Diane on Jul 25, 2021 Reply

    This is so true Helen, which is why I haven’t been able to read the shoddy journalism throughout the pandemic. The podcast Planet Normal often challenged both the statistics and the representation of them by the media and the government scientists.

  • Helle Jacobsen on Jul 24, 2021 Reply

    100% in agreement – but the English have always done themselves down, and this is (for the most part) such a fantastic country – she says speaking as a foreigner, albeit having been here almost 70 years.

    As a matter of interest, I remember Donald Trump telling the States to stop testing on the basis that if we don’t find any infected people, there are no infections. Typical Donald logic!

    Hope the sun is shining on you.

    • Helen Whitten on Jul 24, 2021 Reply

      Thanks Helle, it’s always good to hear some words of enthusiasm from those of you who have come to this country and are enjoying it! x

  • John on Jul 22, 2021 Reply

    I enjoyed this one Helen thankyou. The thrust of your proposition is undeniable – endless criticism and self-denigration is destructive (although I do not see this in my three senior grandchildren, who are all vaccinated, bright-eyed and getting on with their lives). We need as a nation to get a grip on our self pity
    However the statistical issue is questionable. Whether we test 5million, 1 million or one thousand people on any given day, the proportion of cases – ie the number per 100,000 will be the same. Finely tuned accuracy just comes with bigger samples of the population.
    The number tested is important for other reasons – identify victims, focus response, find variants. This information is not made public, for reasons of political expediency.
    Journalists go for the shock value of course, so ‘more deaths than ** country’ reads better than ‘9 new deaths yesterday’. The only meaningful statistic which I realise you have pointed out is how many in a population by proportion. 500,000 deaths in the USA is no worse than 130,000 in the UK. It’s about the same.
    And so we go on …

    • Helen Whitten on Jul 22, 2021 Reply

      Thanks John… you’re right, there’s no news story in saying that 68+million people survived and did not die of Covid today! Hx

    • Helen Whitten on Jul 24, 2021 Reply

      I am also delighted that your grandchildren are doing well. It’s funny, I have got to that age when people younger offer me a seat on a bus or tube, but when I mention this I to others I often get the comment, “I bet they weren’t English”. It’s not true, many younger Brits kindly stand up for me, as do younger folk from many other parts of the world. Like your grandchildren, there are plenty of charming, motivated young people in this country and they need to be encouraged, inspired and supported.