Wrong Incentives can come from Good Intentions

by | May 6, 2020 | Change |

“If you report symptoms of COVID, it is not uncommon to be visited by the police or security services and taken to the quarantine centre. And you are charged for every day you spend in quarantine. It’s the worst hotel experience ever. And you could not even have COVID, just have a cold or the flu!”

We sat in silence for a few minutes as I tried to find words to respond. In the end, I went with “Wow, talk about a disincentive to report symptoms!”

If COVID is viewed as security threat and the fault of those who catch it, then it is understandable how a community ends up with these processes. The sick become a blight on society to be remove (and ‘punished’).

Thankfully these are not common practices in many countries, but they do exist and potentially will grow in use.

It’s hard to see alternatives when we are dominated by fear. We shut down and parts of our brain stop functioning. This is another reason it is ever so critical to have diverse groups making decisions. When one is fearful, another can provide another perspective. Imagine the above story with a simple swap. Instead of the police or security forces visiting the person with symptoms, imagine if it would a community health worker, a nurse, or an ambulance. The optics and experience would be completely different.

And perhaps using community health workers was identified in the meeting as the best idea, but there wasn’t enough available. Perhaps the police chief offered to help, wanting to be generous, wanting to serve the community as best as possible. Perhaps the offer came from a good place. And while this might help us understand how the community ended up here, it doesn’t change the optics or the experience of the community.

Stories and seeing different perspectives bring experiences to life. We need more of them in our lives and work. Not ones that confirm or support our own view of the world, but ones that show us the world in a different light, from a different angle.

Photo by Mehrpouya H


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