Photo/Illutration Face-masked tourists crowd an area in front of the Naiku inner shrine of Ise Jingu shrine in Ise, Mie Prefecture, on July 22, when the "Go To Travel" tourism campaign started. (The Asahi Shimbun)

What should you do when someone orders you not to obey their order?

You realize that heeding their command not to obey may in itself be an act of disobedience.

You are in what is termed a double bind, a psychological dilemma that arises when you receive conflicting orders or requests.

Originally a psychopathological concept, it can apply to a number of situations in our daily lives.

One example: A parent tells a child to “grow up,” and then says in the same breath, “Don’t forget, you are only a child.”

Here’s another: Your boss assigns you a huge load of work but orders you to go home and not put in any overtime.

That’s the sort of quandary that can stress anyone out.

The novel coronavirus pandemic appears to have put us in a severe double bind.

The central government and the Tokyo metropolitan government, which are supposed to be working together to deal with the crisis, have issued blatantly conflicting messages.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated: “The situation does not warrant the declaration of a state of emergency because the system of providing health care is not stretched too thin.”

But Yoshihiro Yamaguchi of Kyorin University Hospital, who is tasked by the Tokyo metropolitan government to assess the situation, said, “A national leader says ‘the health care system in Tokyo is not overstrained,’ but it is wrong.”

The central government is pushing the “Go To Travel” tourism campaign, but Tokyo is urging people to refrain from non-urgent outings.

While the two parties are at loggerheads, new cases of infections have surged not only in the capital but also around the country. The nationwide number topped 900 on July 23.

The inconsistencies are only increasing, rather than decreasing.

It is simply too much to expect us to take on the entire responsibility of determining which messages need to be taken seriously and which should be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, do we have any choice other than to just do our own thinking and hope to protect ourselves?

Obviously, we can’t arrive at the right answer by adding two conflicting sets of messages together and then dividing them by two.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.