Rules, risk and consent

For someone who is generally resistant to rules without understanding, I feel grateful for two useful framings that came up from friends around covid and social distancing this week – risk and consent.


I recognise there isn’t trust in me in the rules being presented. From what i can see in the research, there is minimal risk in meeting outside in nature with more than 6 people at a distance, and that going into a shop, picking up items, or travelling by train to work in an office carries more risk. The rules in Wales make more sense, but i am in England, and i often have more trust in applying this risk lens myself to the particulars of a situation, even while acknowledging i don’t know for sure, than in following preset rules.

This article from Wired explores our ways of thinking about risk:

“If we shift how we think about risk to more of a spectrum, we can identify easy ways to encourage people to adapt their behaviour to be lower risk without having to forgo social contact altogether”

“When people talk about risk during the coronavirus pandemic, they’re usually talking about the risk of individuals catching the virus or spreading it to other people. Those risks are extremely important – they’re the whole reason why we have social distancing regulations in the first place – but they’re not the only risks in play. Other risks, like the impact of isolation on our mental health, are important too.”

When i hear of the growing number of suicides, and personal stories of increasing anxiety or depression, I am sure in my gut that this discussion is needed, especially when i see this is not a short term crisis that will soon be over and normality resumed. How do we balance needs for safety and care, with needs for contact, community, support and freedom? I don’t believe we can choose between them and reject others. We need to talk, hear different perspectives, find creative solutions, and mourn what isn’t met.


Thinking about integrity, responsibility and care, I have found it helpful to consider the idea consent, rather than believing either I have to work out what is ‘right’, or to blindly follow rules.

One option is to commit to being transparent with people i am meeting about where i have had contact, and letting them decide what is ok for them. For example, if i meet in a mutually consenting way with others, and then might meet some someone else, I can let them know and they can assess the risk for them and work out what feels right – maybe to meet at a distance with masks, or not to meet at this point. If i want to meet people more vulnerable than me, or the chain of contact leads to that scenario, there might be a different response.

As i also have a partner and housemate who can’t realistically distance from me, and they contact others, I also need to check in consent from them before i do something, and whether they are also following consent. When i have been in a situation where that hasn’t happened, before i had this clarity, I could feel in my gut that there is tension, something I am not facing up to. And i recognise that i can’t ‘know’ the consequences, only offer transparency and trust each person to weigh up the risks and choose.


I see as I write this why it can be useful to have rules – seeing the complexity of all that needs to be considered, that rules are a way of making things simpler, with an intention of reducing collective risk. There is not only my safety and choice here, but it affects others. I have argued for this in other cases, to ban plastic bags and tax use of fossil fuels and companies that pollute, rather than trusting individual ethics.

At the same time, there is something concerning me about following rules blindly, and maybe naming the lack of trust i have that our leaders have our best interests at heart. Even before thinking about the influence of corporations and lobbyists, or the focus of capitalism on commodification and growth, there is the prioritising of surviving over quality of life and wellbeing mentioned above.

The more i integrate learning from NVC, the more i see people’s actions through the lens of universal human needs – our actions as strategies to find what we long for. As the Wired article explains, reasons for not following rules show people will find strategies to meet their most pressing needs, which may be something other than not catching Covid: “The reasons people gave included needing to go to work, providing care for a vulnerable person or being too depressed or anxious to stay home.”

As we choose to fine people for non compliance, encourage reporting on your neighbours, judge harshly those who raise questions, and become increasingly polarised, what do we lose in the process?


I notice some fear in me of judgement – people’s need for care and safety triggered by questioning rules, and a sense that talking about alternatives might increase the risk. I know it is scary, and i don’t want to increase the already high levels of fear. AND this conversation seems essential.

It is complicated. That is how this interconnected human life is, especially now. We need to learn to continue the conversation across differences. This virus and all the disruption in our current world invites a constant process of both personal and collective reflection and review. How can we stay connected, hear other perspectives, find choices that consider all needs.


How is it for you to read this? How are you deciding what actions to take and not, expressing both care and freedom, balancing different needs? I would love to know!

Sent out into the world with love and care, especially for any fear posting this brings up, Viv x

Published by vivslack

Ideas, outdoors, adventure, sustainability, social good.

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