Using transformative action-inquiry during the COVID-19 pandemic: Critiquing studies and facing decision-making dilemmas


Critiquing studies and facing decision-making dilemmas

Action-and-inquiry during the COVID-19 pandemic

Transformative action-and-inquiry has important applications to our everyday life. The principles and methods can be used by leaders and people from all walks of life, alike. One aim, indeed, is to encourage many people to participate in community knowledge-building. Such involvement in critically minded and ongoing inquiry is especially important in times of crisis. Under duress, all of us are understandably prone to be driven by lots of emotions, and in ways that we may not be fully aware of how we are making our decisions.

Our emotions cannot be eliminated from inquiry, for they are important to who we are as people. Further, our emotions can make valuable contributions to inquiry. From empathy we can become curious to learn about the experiences of others, learn from others, and be compassionate, as well. From a sense of responsibility, we can be motivated to be deliberate and circumspect about our decision-making processes. Even worry and anxiety can mobilize us to inquire. At the same time, anxiety, fear, and stress may sometimes compel us to make “snap decisions” or to push dilemmas and worries to the side—much like we may sometimes do if we feel like we must jump into bed and pull the covers over ourselves and try to forget about everything. In other cases, we may lash out in anger, if the expression of anger feels more comfortable to us than expressing fear or doubt.

In the past several months, since March 2020, we’ve been in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost everyone has been faced with these sorts of challenges, although the responses have been quite varied, indeed. Some of us are sheltering in place, going out mostly only for walks in the neighborhood, oftentimes wearing face masks, and carefully staying at least six feet away from those not in our household. Others are forced to be out and about—by their circumstances, for example, either because of their responsibilities to their job (e.g., doctors, nurses, firefighters, police) or because of the pressing need to keep earning money to get by (e.g., working as clerks in grocery stores or delivering food). Others still are angry that their “rights” are being infringed upon, and some are aggressively (even a few with guns!) demanding that they be able to go about their business however they wish to do so— including crowding together in close quarters in public places for recreation. These are only some of the responses. For the past several months, lots of ideas and information are swirling around regarding causes, and possible solutions, of an easily contagious virus that seems to act in ways that are very much outside the realm of what we experience with various strains of flu viruses...

How do we “know” which information to pay the most attention to? What should we believe? Why? Experts say something one week, emphasizing that the main dangers are damage to our lungs, then a couple of weeks later, it seems a risk is blood clotting and even strokes? Maybe both are true—probably they are. How do we think about these unfolding “facts”—scientists and medical professionals themselves are challenged in their research laboratories, and those of us who are “lay people” have to decide which precautions to take—to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and strangers as well. These issues of “inquiry” have “action” implications, and inevitably we make decisions that are emotional—if I go outside to walk, or even jog, should I wear a face mask, or should I just keep my distance? Should we wait to go back to business as usual until there is a strongly proven treatment? And, if so, what does “strongly proven” mean? Should we wait until there is a proven vaccine? What’s “strongly proven” to one person may be tenuous to another. How do we decide? Some believe there is nothing to really worry about unless you’re over 60 or 70 or have a significant chronic health problem. Similarly, government leaders and policy makers have to make decisions about what laws and guidelines to pass. There are ethical dilemmas in many of our everyday actions, and right now, people are making decisions about how much to risk more deaths, as compared with increased unemployment, or alternatively, with a major decline in the stock market. (Bilorusky, 2021, p.2)

Each of us are making important decisions, and many of us realize the weight of our choices, whereas others perhaps seem not to so much. Whether we are aware of this, or not, our decisions almost inevitably impact not only us, but our loved ones, and others throughout our communities. Here, I hope to show how ideas and perspectives of transformative action-inquiry can be used to improve the quality of the ways in which we make difficult decisions and judgment calls during this extremely difficult time. I will consider some of the challenges involved in sorting through complicated, uncertain, and conflicting information about the pandemic, as well as examining the difficulties and possible approaches to making personal and policy decisions during the pandemic.

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