Where are the images that tell stories?

It was the weekend, after my routine long run, I was looking forward to our usual family breakfast tradition but that day, I was going to get a takeaway as the COVID- 19 situation was showing early signs of becoming ungovernable, I was being careful.

As I was leaving the lobby of our apartment building to get to the car park, I saw an ambulance pull up, my heart missed a beat. Is someone sick, are they infected?

I then saw healthcare workers with masks, googles, bunny suits and practically every part of their body covered. My palms started sweating as I watched them take a wheelchair out of the ambulance.

I knew, there had been a case of COVID- 19 in our apartment block. I panicked and rushed back home via stairs to tell my daughter that she should not to leave the house and definitely not use the lifts.

In days to follow, I would lose nerve over small little things like, my daughter touching the staircase railing in our apartment block. The involuntary reaction of clearing my throat every now and then was now very noticeable and accompanied with the question, ” Is today the day I will get COVID- 19?”

I had know about COVID -19 before too but my reaction was not the same, was it the proximity of the infection making me push panic button or was it something else?

Every time  I was terrified I noticed my self visualising the lobby of my apartment block with fully covered healthcare workers. Every day that passed, particularly as I hear the wail of ambulance sirens going by on the East Coast Highway near my window, that visual of the lobby would pop up in my head. It was this visual that granted freaked me,  but also was responsible for me becoming extra mindful of the precautions my family needs to take in such times.

What seemed like, it is ok became I have to be very careful, I am not taking a chance.

Clearly, visualisation is a powerful tool — it can help us more deeply understand the severity of the situation. But sadly, our analytical brain tends to rely solely on daily briefings of statistics presented in pie charts and bar graphs to create a desired behaviour change .

Statistics alone, however clear, are not historically how we have communicated calamity. There is an inverse relationship between high numbers and comprehension: It is much harder to picture tragedy of the kind we are now witnessing than it is to visualize one person in pain, or an image that connects with a familiar aspect of the human condition, what psychologists have termed the “identifiable victim effect.”

This quote from Joseph Stalin has always stayed in my mind.

Data Storytelling, Images, workshop, training

“the identifiable victim effect,” where the effect of one individual, identifiable, victim who is known in full detail can evoke a much deeper feelings, emotions and sympathy than a large group of anonymous individuals.

For society to respond in ways commensurate with the importance of this pandemic, we have to see it. For us to be transformed by it, it has to penetrate our hearts as well as our minds.

My faith in the power of images had eroded over the last few years because of the use of images in social media. I wrote about this sometime ago in a blog, Photos you are failing me . But the pandemic has restored that faith and I am now once again with confidence, saying , “A picture tells a thousand words.”

Images force us to contend with the unspeakable. They help humanise clinical statistics, to make them comprehensible.

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