Why people stopped listening to coronavirus warnings

Protesters holding up signs in Bourke Street, Melbourne last month. The protests made many people feel that social distancing didn't matter as much anymore. Photo: Speed Media/Getty Images
Protesters holding up signs in Bourke Street, Melbourne last month. The protests made many people feel that social distancing didn't matter as much anymore. Photo: Speed Media/Getty Images

Harold and Martha, an old married couple, were arguing in the car. Harold had apparently left the cap off the toothpaste (again) and this was in addition to his thoughtless using of the toothpaste from the top of the tube instead of pushing it up from the bottom as Martha had explained a few times more than many.

As the elderly couple's car went around a particularly sharp corner, Martha fell clean out of the car. A police officer watching all this was surprised to see that Harold just kept driving.

After establishing that Martha was all right, the police officer set off in hot pursuit of this heartless Harold. When the police officer finally pulled Harold over, the officer began to point out the obvious: "When you came around that sharp corner all the way back there your wife fell out of the car!"

Harold replied with a sigh "Phew! That's a relief!"

The stunned officer asked "Why is that a relief?"

Harold smiled and said "I was worried I had finally gone deaf."

Admit it, if I had swapped the genders on that joke you wouldn't have been the slightest bit offended.

When I was a small boy I never believed people were that interested in what I was thinking; even on the rare occasions when they asked me.

This rarity usually took place when I was doing something I shouldn't have been and so my mother would ask me loudly "What do you think you're doing?".

Nine times out of 10 I'd get with the program and muse within myself "that was a question, but I don't think she actually wants an answer and giving an answer will probably make this horrible day even worse".

Of course, there were those "one time out of ten" moments when I would think in my four-year-old's brain, "She just asked me what I was thinking twice ... maybe she's open to an explanation."

Then I'd hope for some "deus ex machina" and begin my explanation: "Well, Mummy, I was cooking these cheese slices in the toaster because all the bread fell into the bath and got soggy. And because this toaster is hopeless at making toast out of milk! It just made lots of smoke and even some fire."

Why don't people listen to us sometimes? It's not always easy to know why, but a common reason is because they think you are not listening to them. Harold and Martha are not an isolated case.

I don't think it's a coincidence that, of all the states, Victoria is having the hardest time controlling the coronavirus.

I don't think it's a coincidence that, of all the states, Victoria is having the hardest time controlling the coronavirus.

Although Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews regularly addresses the nation with updates on the pandemic in casual dress, his attire is in stark contrast with his state's draconian lockdown laws that were the strictest in the country.

Is it possible that the silent majority of Victorians stopped listening to him? If so, why?

We had simple solutions to this virus that even children understood - disinfect things after touching them, wash your hands and social distance.

And you know what? It was working. We were winning the war against COVID-19. Then the protests came and made us all feel like fools.

Here were we painfully social distancing - and it was at times very painful - and we couldn't open up churches, even after countless prayers, petitions and tears.

Then the protesters descend on our major cities without these restrictions. What came next?

For the sake of argument, let us say that not one person has caught the virus at a protest. But what message did the protests send to the rest of us?

That social distancing no longer matters. And so, we all started relaxing.

I had not visited my elderly parents in Sydney for over three months. But after the protests, I did. Like many ordinary Australians, the protests made me feel like social distancing didn't matter as much anymore.

The fastest way to get reasonable people to listen to you is to start listening to them. And I assume you are living with reasonable people.

If not, start sincerely listening to them more when they express their views. You may be surprised how quickly they become reasonable.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

This story Why people stopped listening to coronavirus warnings first appeared on The Canberra Times.