Radio review: Being in denial is complicated

Nuala McCann

The Age of Denial, Knowing and Not knowing - Radio 4

Everyone knows him as Rolfey.

He had cancer and he thought, in his last months, he'd make his dream come true.

His dream involved sitting in a chair outside his own antiques shop in Bath, watching the world go by.

Rolfey would only need the shop for three months. He had not much time.

But life is all about surprises – and he survived and his antiques shop selling all things interesting and a good line in “fashionable junk” survived and became a real feature of Bath.

People would talk about the stuffed bear beating a drum in the window.

When the business started to go down hill, Rolfey tried to make sense of it. He'd go without wages for two months in the year just to keep it going.

He was in denial. He kept up an illusion that all was well when it really wasn't.

Eventually though, said Rolfey, “The hard light of day hits you.”

Presenter Isabel Hardman is a wise, compassionate story teller. Her subject in a series of programmes is denial.

She has been talking to a series of experts about how we deceive ourselves.

Denial is complicated. We hear from academics and doctors who have studied it.

One of them ended up writing a book with a dead man whom he'd only met for an hour and a half.

But the findings include one that says being optimistic keeps you going. It's called the optimism bias.

Optimists tend to learn quickly, they move on, they keep going.

We are wired to look on the bright side.

So chin up, despite the inevitable and the shop closure that was heart rending. Rolfey is moving on.

Conscious denial and inner emigration is about when people retreat from the reality of the world and create a distance that allows them not to take responsibility for it.

Take what happened in Nazi-occupied countries when people who stayed felt they had emigrated in their minds.

In a world of fake news when no-one knows what can be true, loneliness can set in and people can withdraw.

These were complex ideas – I'm grappling with them - but stories like Rolfey's bound the arguments together and brought them to life.

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