It’s no secret that ever since the Coronavirus shut down most of the world, Sweden has been an outlier. As a resident of Sweden, it’s been interesting to see the narrative that has been swirling around the Nordic country’s approach to the lockdown. Actually, ‘interesting’ is putting it mildly. I’m not going to throw my hat into the ring and fight for my point of view on whether the decisions have been wise or unwise. I definitely don’t have the expertise to comment. What I can comment on are the questions that are being asked about the country’s approach and my take-away on what people like myself, who communicate about different crises, could learn from it.
Sharing the same story
In Sweden, like most other countries, there seems to be one overarching narrative that seems to be over-shadowing the seemingly smaller stories. This, I understand, is the nature of the storytelling beast: If something appeals to the audience, the writers will churn out more of it. It’s easy. For example, in India, lack of a livelihood is forcing hungry migrants stuck in locked-down cities to return to their home-states. Some desperately walk for miles to get home. Each individual story is heart-rending and heroic. And international news is rife with these stories.
Similarly, in Sweden, the narrative that the Swedish government is experimenting with herd-immunity by not implementing a lockdown has eliminated all other lines of questioning. I recently watched a BBC Hardtalk interviewer ask the country’s most quoted epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, about why so many of the country’s elderly had lost their lives to the virus.
However, instead of pursuing a line of questioning that would actually lead to a new, more relevant response i.e. systemic cost-cutting that had led to poor management, the interviewer pursued the herd-immunity line of questioning that every international media house has done to death.
New questions, new voices and new stories
Consequently, very little was added to the narrative of the country during that interview. Which, to me, seems like a missed opportunity to shine a spotlight on a problem that sorely needs to be addressed.
So, what can we learn from this for communication around the climate crisis? The Covid-19 crisis like the climate crisis touches every corner of society and will only get worse if the issues that need to be addressed aren’t. Simply because the questions aren’t being asked. I find that if we are to tackle something so ubiquitous, we cannot afford to stick to a populist line of questioning. For instance in the Hardtalk interview Anders Tegnell could’ve been asked about what was being done to address the disproportionate number of fatalities within minority communities. Perhaps then the global narrative around Sweden might have experienced a bit of a detour.
To institute global change that will tackle a scaled-up version of the Covid-19, which the climate crisis is fated to be, we also need to scale-up the questions we ask, the voices we hear and the stories we tell.