The leaders in this covid19 crisis need to find a balance between severe and empathetic in order to persuade more people to follow the health restrictions and guidelines, says behavioural therapist Dr Stacy Murray.
They also need to vary their presentations to affect people of different backgrounds and learning styles.
Murray said each person has a different trigger that would cause them to change their mindset and behaviour, and to do this takes a lot of time and effort.
Asked why some people still disregard the health restrictions and guidelines, she believed people do not want to accept what is happening in the country. To accept would challenge their mental state and that is something many people could not handle.
“Generally people have become numb. Covid19 is all over the world, it’s not going anywhere so it’s like it has become part of life. So you are no longer afraid of what it can do to you, or you just switch off your emotions when it comes to covid so you don’t have to face the reality of what is taking place and you just continue living like normal. Because if you have to sit and think about it, you’re going to be affected psychologically.”
In addition, she said the culture in Trinidad and Tobago (TT) was to challenge authority and people do not like to be told what to do.
“I think the leaders understand the culture of TT and that is the reason why the presentations are geared towards that. If they bring it more subtle, I don’t think it will be effective at all. The message also has to be continuously repeated, to which I think they are doing a good job.”
Murray told Sunday Newsday if the tone of the presentations is too empathetic, people would not see it as genuine. It may win over some of the most vulnerable in society who want to know they are being seen and understood but others may see it as part of a political agenda.
She suggests focussing on different aspects of the population at different press conferences as well as changing their presentations – which have now become routine.
For example, use an empathetic tone to appeal to the vulnerable today, use numbers and finance and a more stern tone for the businessmen on the next, research and statistics for the more educated and research-oriented citizens, a more simple presentation for children.
“It all depends on the population. That’s why I said creating a balance would reach the majority of the people of different classes in the population as opposed to staying on the extreme ends. Because whoever the message hits and reaches, they would change.
“Then there are some who, all the graphs and research would not change anything because they don’t understand what is being said. Not everyone is visual, not everyone can sit and listen, so they have to make sure their presentation is a mixture to capture all the audience’s learning styles.”
She said children also need the information because behaviour change starts with them so the leaders should take some time to make a few presentations with simple language, that are more lively or use vehicles like animation or comics.”
Councillors bear brunt of burden
Councillors on the other hand, have only empathy for their burgesses.
Sunday Newsday spoke to four local government councillors who said they are in continuous contact with the people in their community and have had no reports of resistance to the regulations in their areas. During this time of tightened restrictions, they all can be contacted on their Facebook pages, via WhatsApp, or telephone calls. And they only go out to visit sites when necessary and they follow health guidelines using masks, physical distancing and hand sanitiser.
United National Congress (UNC) councillor for Curepe/ Pasea, J-lynn Roopnarine said the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation also has virtual meetings on Microsoft Team.
“Before covid, I walked my entire district and gave out my call cards to almost every constituent. Because some people lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and others are home until July 4, a lot of people are reaching out to me. They need assistance, they are crying out, they have nothing to eat.”
She is working with St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen to distribute some of the 400 food hampers and 130 chickens provided by the government.
Some need food, some want to apply for grants but do not have internet or computer access. She prints the forms and delivers it to people, helps them fill out the forms, returns to her office and sends it to the relevant authorities. She admitted that some people could get aggressive or demanding because of the situations they are facing but she does not react to that.
“I do not quarrel or lash out. I try my best to understand, to get them to tell me what they really need. It’s been really hard in this time. A lot of people got laid off or are not working because businesses are closed. I understand how these people feel and wish I could do more. I wish more resources could be provided for us but the corporation does not have the finances to do so.”
She called on the government to release funds to the regional corporation so it could purchase food and make more hampers.
UNC councillor for St Augustine South/ Piarco/ St Helena Richard Rampersad has been supporting families in need of assistance through various food drives he organised through his office. Last year, the corporation also teamed up with SEWA TT and other organisations to distribute cloth masks and hand sanitisers.
However, he said his job is not only about making sure a road is paved, a drain is cleaned, or garbage is collected. It is also about the human element.
“I understand the predicament people are faced with and the challenges that they are enduring. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call, a WhatsApp, to check up on people and see how they are surviving, and people appreciate that.
“In these times people are dealing with a lot of anxieties and worries – loneliness, unemployment, when things would go back to normal – so people want a comforting word. Beyond the hampers and so on, people want a listening ear and an assurance that things will be okay.”
'It all boils down to listening'
Jeniece Scott, the People’s National Movement (PNM) councillor for Calvary, said in addition to Facebook and people being able to contact her on WhatsApp, she and other councillors in the Arima Borough Corporation set up WhatsApp groups.
She either started or joined established groups for each of the communities in her area and use it to share news and information, as well as to ensure people know how to get the assistance they need.
She said before the current covid19 spike, she would randomly visit burgesses to check in on them. Now she randomly calls them to find out how they are doing.
“It all boils down to listening. A lot of times people just want to talk to someone. When they are talking is when you really start to pick up on the nuances of what is needed even if they don’t explicitly say so. At that point my brain goes into overdrive to determine how I could help them.”
She said the sense of community is very strong in her area enabling her to reach out businesses, individuals and other partnerships she has developed. She also use her councillor stipend to help as many people as she could.
Scott said in addition the corporation had the help of several MPs, especially Arima MP Pennelope Beckles.
PNM councillor for Cap-de-Ville/ Fanny Village, Bryana Fortune-John, also created WhatsApp groups with burgesses in her communities, and has a broadcast list to get information to relevant people. She also has a closed group on Facebook for the Point Fortin business community so they could help support one another.
She has been distributing food hampers, chicken, meals, and has helped her burgesses out of pocket. The Point Fortin Borough Corporation is also in the process of looking for ways to collect hampers and vouchers to distribute.
“I also listen to people. I’m a woman, a mother, and a wife so I know what it is like to have to provide for your children. Sometimes I just cry with them. I have also been referring people to counsellors and encouraging them to think about the future, what is their next step, think about post-covid because this has been a serious blow to people’s mental health.”