In psychology of personality, some persons have been identified as having deviant personalities – persons who usually deviate from established norms meant for the general good. Such persons have the propensity or learned predisposition to defy instructions, authority and challenge the status quo. These groups of persons usually learn such attitudes and behaviours from childhood as part of their socialization processes depending on the dominant beliefs and values of their main socialization agents and agencies as well as how long and impactful the process was. Such attitudes may also be picked up during adulthood as a function of the individual’s life experiences and what has been learned as the most effective means of surviving and reaching set goals in any given environment. Thus, in both childhood and adulthood the environment and the prevailing sub-culture have greater influence on personality and for that matter, one’s attitudes and behaviours.
Swag and the glass ceiling
Besides, for some persons, being ‘deviant’, different or not going with the crowd irrespective of the issue, circumstance and season, is in vogue and a way of demonstrating to others that they have swag, they are tough and have influence. You might have observed people of such nature from/at school, at the work place, your neighbourhood or in your family. Such persons always want to be seen as unique’ and also give the impression that they can ‘dare’ where others are ‘afraid’. In some instances, such defiance may be perceived or presented as a demonstration of masculinity or ability to break the into the glass ceiling. Glass ceiling is a phrase used to describe a psychological, imaginary, socio-cultural, economic or physical barrier which prevent individuals/groups from entering certain territories (educational level, profession, rank, etc.,) considered as the domain of certain age group, sex/gender, ethnicity, race, or for individuals with certain socio-economic background. In reference to women, it used to be seen as demonstration of strength and great effort to enter into predominantly male zone in terms of profession, rank/position, etc., – it is a manifestation of ‘masculinity’, ‘boldness’, ‘toughness’, etc.). In the corporate world as in governance, gladly, most of the glass ceilings have been smashed.
Emotions and impulsivity
In many instances, behaviour may also be the result of emotions and impulse reaction. Put differently, even though as humans, we are rational (or rather supposed to be) and therefore expected to make decisions by gathering the relevant information, analyzing them and on the basis of the issues involved, arrive at informed decisions, unfortunately, a large proportion of individuals rather made decisions on impulse (spell of the moment or some irrational basis), or on the basis of very little or no reasoning, distorted or on unformed reasoning. Decisions made in this way are mostly not the best and mostly ineffective in tacking the issues at hand. Recall the last time you made a decision on the basis of emotion such as anger. Again think of when you saved money for specific items (A, B, and C), but on your way to town purposely to purchase these items, you saw another item that was not on your shopping list but you instantly bought it without consideration to the A, B, C. The chances are that you were not able to buy all the three items that day – impulsive reaction/decision prevented you from doing the right thing (staying focused and achieving your set goal) on that day. We usually regret such decisions for one reason or the other. Let us therefore try to avoid decisions/actions which are predominantly controlled or dominated by emotions and/or impulse in this era of COVID-19.
The above discussion implies that since behaviour is influenced by many variables such as the need to survive, ignorance, erroneous beliefs, mere curiosity, perception, defense of one’s rights as well as the display of showmanship, personality type and emotions, individuals may be pushed towards or away from compliance depending on the strength of each of, or a combination of the factors/issues in any particular situation. Thus, when it comes to the crunch, most persons make decisions based on what they consider appropriate, in line with their beliefs, knowledge, circumstance, emotions and above all, the potential consequences of their action. By implication, for some persons, compliance is not an option because it is not in line with their usual and acceptable script for normal behaviour. Such persons are most likely to conform only under very strict compulsion and enforcement regime followed by sanctions that are swift and punitive or when the education and sensitization prior and during the enforcement is very convincing to the point of altering their existing mind-set and behaviour repertoire.
The above does not in any way mean that non-conformists and lawbreakers have the right to do whatever they like under any circumstance nor should they be protected, encouraged or entertained. Far from that; it is meant to offer some level of understanding and better appreciation of some of the psycho-social, traditional/cultural beliefs and politico-economic factors underlying certain behaviours and provide a guide on how to employ behaviour modification technique and procedures that will enhance more compliance. As indicated earlier, human beings are rational – both in the positive and in the negative sense of the word hence whatever facilitate the achievement of set goals and needs are usually seen as right and rational by most individuals unless they are guided by strong personal philosophy, religious morality, inhibitory cultural or social norms that ensure appropriate societal behaviour or know that they cannot get away with the consequences of their negative actions. Indeed, a good number of individuals habitually make conscious efforts to justify their actions even when they known that they are wrong. Thus, depending on some of the above factors, humans literally ‘tame’ and even ‘kill’ their conscience on certain issues in order to justify their actions and be in the position to hold on to their self-worth and repel or contain the barrage of criticisms that come their way.
The challenge at hand
An effective and successful fight against any form of the common enemy such as the COVID-19 pandemic requires collective efforts (global, continental, national, community, etc.) in which each and everyone plays his/her part. Where there is social loafing – laxity on the part of others on the assumption that their contributions are insignificant or their role will be played by others – or any form of negligence on the part of any person or group, there may be challenges in arriving at the set goals unless some persons play extra roles. In the context of COVID-19, if we assume that at least 90% of the population is likely to comply and contribute to the achievement of the set goals of containing and controlling the virus, the remaining recalcitrant of 10% or less manifested in ignorance, weird beliefs, the fight for economic survival, machoism, deviant personalities, will perpetuate the infection and increase the fatality rate and other socio-economic problems for almost everyone. We must therefore prepare for the 10% or less who are likely to betray the rest of us and become our Judas Iscariot.
Self preservation and assertiveness
We should be law-abiding by making conscious efforts to follow all the recommended protocols in our own interest and for the common good. In effect, we should follow even without prompting all the recommendations on COVID-19 prevention and containment protocols. By doing this, we are not only protecting ourselves and families but we are also being wise and smart and increasing our chances of survival according to Darwin. The concept of survival of the fitters as Darwin’s theory has come to be known is not only in the context of physical strength as it is usually discussed but more importantly, intellectual fitness manifested in one’s ability to think and behave smartly and adjust as quickly as possible to situations. In order words, and under normal circumstance, the survival chances of those who do not behave smartly will not be as high as those who do. Unfortunately, in this context, someone’s negligence can affect us so we have to speak out against the carelessness of others that have the potential to endanger our lives (be our doom). Put differently, do not be the usually timid Ghanaian but rather speak out and protect yourself against those who fail (or is it refuse) to regularly wash your hands, avoid crowd, keep the required distance, wear their mask, etc. – be as smart as the serpent and behave like a defensive driver who always assumes that every other driver is potentially one of the variables that causes accident.
Fight the common enemy through enforcement
Since the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic depends on our collective efforts, there is the need to courteously draw the attention of others to engage in etiquette behaviours. How do we do this without sounding offensive or even resulting in quarrels and fights? This is one of the critical times to practice the concept of first human instinct – self-preservation. Look at the COVID-19 pandemic as a war situation in which all kinds of sophisticated weapons including biological ones have been released specifically to eliminate you and no one else. If you feel comfortable and can do it politely, speak with the individuals, if it is a shop, complain to the person in charge not to give access to the deviant, if the deviant is already in the shop then report to the relevant officer to drive him/her out. Threaten the shop attendant, the one in charge or the manager who entertain such deviants that you will not shop there again or leave the area/premises quietly.
We must treat the virus and anyone whose action(s) will perpetuate its existence as a public health enemy number one – we are in wartime and all armories must be used. The security personnel who supported the enforcement of the lockdown should be back in the communities, the streets, lorry parks, markets and other crowd prone areas in their numbers to enforce the recommendations. The sentencing (fine and/or the possible imprisonment) of some persons who went against the dictates of the lockdown and the many similar cases pending at the law courts should serve as a strong warning to would-be deviants to be careful. In the light of this, the call by individuals, groups and institutions that lawbreakers should be sanctioned are welcomed and must be fully supported. None should intervene on behalf of lawbreakers – intervening implies that you do not support the fight.
Most persons are law-abiding but the few who decide and want to do what they like tend to create problems for others. In the case of COVID-19 where one person’s case is a potential danger for others, there should be nothing like ‘I am an individual with certain rights and should be allowed to do what I want’. There should be collective responsibility as in my favourite boat analogy of three men traveling on a very dark night on a typical traditional boat that has no motor to propel it, no light to guide them and there is also a little hole beneath the boat so water constantly sips into the boat. To ensure the safety of all, each one has a personal and collective responsibility to carry out to ensure that they arrive at their destination safely. If any of them does not play his role effectively or does it haphazardly and there is a problem, they will all suffer. In effect, and by analogy, those who are not respecting social and physical distancing, refusing to wear face masks in public places, not washing their hands, should know that they are endangering everyone. Such wickedness and suicide missions should not be entertained for even a second for we are in the same boat together. I declare such persons as public health enemy number one who are on the Police urgent wanted list and MUST be reported accordingly.
By Wiafe-Akenten, C. Brenya, PhD
The writer is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Psychology, University of Ghana and a Social Psychologist