It’s been a bit of a mixed week for Boy Three – culminating with being fired out of a cannon, cunningly disguised as a cement mixer (the cannon, not the child).
He has spent much of the last week twanging with worry about coronavirus. Not surprising really as everywhere he turns, news outlets are giving us their very best Private Frazer: “We’re doomed, Captain Mainwaring. Doomed, I tell you.”
He had arrived at the not-unreasonable conclusion that he, his family and his guinea pigs are all in mortal danger from this terrifying disease sweeping its way from China to semi-rural Renfrewshire.
Now, I’m not belittling the impact of the virus on tens of thousands of people and the very real risk it poses to the lives of many, but, I’m not happy that I’ve got a tearful and terrified little boy who couldn’t get to sleep because he’s scared.
Journalists are not in the business of putting things in proportion or looking for the bright side, it doesn’t sell newspapers. Where’s the hold the front page in ‘family returns safely from holiday to find nothing worse than strange smell in fridge’ or ‘weird sense of foreboding turns out to be misplaced in the end’? But a little perspective on ‘deadly’ coronavirus might help. For a start, how scary is something that you can tackle with a bar of soap? There are far more ‘deadly’ things around such as the ‘flu, diabetes and drinking too much.
Obviously coronavirus is not good news, least of all those suffering from it, but taking a little care about how we talk about it might make sure we don’t spread other forms of misery at the same time. How does it help anyone to avoid people from China, people who are coughing or sneezing, and people with (or without) face masks?
One group that benefits from coronavirus, aside from mask manufacturers, are journalists. They love bad news, just gobble it up then spit it back out again all over the public looking even worse. They don’t care about putting it into proportion, about pointing out the many other more mundane things that pose a risk in your day, or about counting up the people who get a mild dose and recover completely. There’s no fun in that.
I used to be one of them, a journalist drumming up drama and fascinated by the dark side, the pitchier the better. I thought I was dealing in truth – providing essential enlightenment. Sometimes it was true and important, but mostly it wasn’t. I’m not saying people don’t want news and need to know what’s going on, or that I didn’t have moments of competency as a journalist, however, a constant diet of negativity isn’t any good. It’s addictive and damaging. Even watching rolling news of horrible world events can cause PTSD so imagine how bad working in that environment can be for your mental health. It’s been a while since I worked in a newsroom, so maybe I’m cured now. I certainly see through it all a bit more, spotting the spin and the spurious, the carefully chosen pictures, the tilt and the twist of it all. Add to that the devious algorithms of social media and I know how fragile the truth is.
I hope we were able to reassure Boy Three that we’re all quite safe, or as safe as we can manage. (Fingers crossed that misfortune doesn’t make me a liar.)
And, then, because parents don’t actually have much control over how our kids feel, something else made him happy. Life has a way of balancing things out and he was quickly back at the top of his bounce. Within the space of a couple of days of he had brought home a trophy for being the most improved player in his team and his Queen’s Scout Silver Award badge from Scouts.