It is puzzling when something seemingly straightforward and benign to one person, can be menacing to others. I suppose a global pandemic can bring out the best and worst in us.
These days, “How do I talk to family and friends who are not exercising social distancing and are not always ‘masking-up?'” is a common question. Social codes give us the direction to be polite, respectfully curious, yet authentic to our values. Cling to them as you navigate personalities, feelings, and relationships.
The first response to this question that may come to mind is: “What is wrong with them?” But the answer may be more complicated and difficult to understand that you might think. Some people do not believe the science, as mystifying as that might seem. Other reasons include: “This is an infringement upon my rights,” which is another tough pill to swallow. If you have loved ones within your circle who share these sentiments, be mindful that it is their prerogative to feel this way, even if you vehemently disagree.
Hopefully, most of us are staying socially distant and religiously wearing masks. We want to keep safe and healthy, and we want to same for others. Many care for young babies, or elderly parents or grandparents, or loved ones with severe co-morbidities who could be devastated by a COVID diagnosis. People need to be mindful and respectful of every one of us because we do not know another’s journey.
It is best to treat everyone with great respect and care, and be grateful for the ability to do so. These days, people are becoming more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, and this conversation is certainly within this realm. However, you need to be able to “read the room” whether with family, friends, or strangers in a shop. If you sense trouble, you’re probably right.
If you are out and see someone who has put their mask in their pocket, or they are using it as a chin warmer, should you say something? Read the room, and ask yourself, is this worth it? Perhaps, they forgot and needed a reminder. Or, you may feel this person is making a statement by not wearing a mask and getting too physically close. In this case, it may be best to avoid an escalation and remove yourself from that environment. It’s not worth a colossal upset, or worse.
If your loved one will not practice social distancing but wants to meet up, you might say, “You know I love you, but I am practicing social distancing, and I want us both to stay healthy. I miss you, but for now, may we meet virtually?” Hopefully, they will respect your values and FaceTime for now. It’s a scenario that has become common for many close family and friends, especially as we grow weary of confinement.
Now is the time to have a re-fresh on your pandemic diligence. A new term has emerged recently, “COVID Risk Budget,” and it can be helpful in awkward situations.
For example, if you are invited to a gathering, socially distant, but still outside your comfort level — either there are too many people, or the venue is problematic — you can decline the invitation by saying, “I would love to attend, but this is outside my COVID risk budget. Is there an electronic option to attend?”
People generally accept this, and offer a way to attend virtually. You need to decide what your COVID risk budget is and stick with it. It’s always best if you show respect for those around you. Follow the science and advice of credible experts, and practice your social codes. Generally, people respect others’ opinions, even if they disagree with them. But do not let dangerous behavior or attitudes become kindling to a flame that puts you in an unsafe situation.
Be kind. Ultimately, it is up to you to remain authentic to your values, and be your own best advocate.
This article was originally published in August 2020 on HeidiDulebohn.com.