Stop All the Chastising. It Isn’t Working or Helping.
Shaming people for yearning to be with their loved ones, and doing so, is not the right tact.
Public-health messaging during the pandemic deems visits to grocery stores and pharmacies as essential while dismissing the legitimate, genuine human need that people feel to be close to one another and interpersonal connected.
This is an example of our society majorly missing the mark.
Many long months into this pandemic, people are at their wits’ end: economically depleted and socially isolated. Depressed and anxious.
And, people need connections with one another. This is not a luxury but a human necessity. And no, not the “connections” found over a screen, but real, in-person, flesh and blood, with eye contact type of connections.
Going without it, especially over long stretches of time, can be and often is emotionally and mentally devastating.
At the same time, people are disgruntled about — and in some cases rightly baffled by — the arbitrariness of some of the restrictions on their daily lives. We’re allowed to go eat in restaurants and sit in bars, pulling down our masks in enclosed spaces to eat, drink, and talk, for hours on end, with a huge crowd of people? And yet, we are told we must wear a mask when walking outside, when people are several feet away from us, and there is often a breeze or slight wind? This makes zero sense and is laughably illogical, even flat out stupid and contradictory.
Through their policies, states are telling Americans that dining indoors is safe in (conveniently) profit-generating situations, such as at a restaurant or formally catered event, while private holiday dinners are roundly condemned. Again, this makes zero sense and it’s flat-out inaccurate.
Some communities have gone as far as banning all social interactions between people from more than one household, including outdoors. Attempting to keep people from all social interactions and even those that take place outside? This is crazy and nonsensical. No wonder people are saying, screw that.
And finally, people are growing resentful, bitter, angry, and tired with regards to the millions of Americans who refuse to wear masks, who claim COVID is fake, who touts being “anti-mask” as though they are making a strong, bad-ass, important statement. The people who keep flouting COVID guidelines that would most certainly reduce and decrease the number of cases.
People who are following guidelines, who wear masks for hours every day, who have been socially isolated, who cannot and are not traveling, who are struggling for money, or who are worried about their jobs? These people are getting angry, and rightfully so, with the huge part of the population who refuses to get on board with acting in empathy and with a sense of agency toward the best interest of the health of everyone.
Because this part of the population is making things horrible for everyone and drawing COVID out to unending lengths.
COVID has become another instance our population becoming polarized, much like the voting (or not) of Trump has and did. People are either anti-mask, could not care less, and flout COVID precautions (and these are the people making it worse for all of us). Or, people are staying home, forgoing a lot of time with family and loved ones, socially isolating, wearing masks, and living generally less-than, unhappy lives in the hopes that their actions will make a difference.
And guess what? Following these rules, unfortunately, will not make the difference we hope it will.
Not when half the country is doing things directly contradictory to the efforts of those who are following guidelines and trying to make a positive difference.
As a result, COVID has stretched on and on and on, for months and months, nearly a year, and the numbers are raging higher than ever.
Thus, at this point, shaming people who do make the decision to see a loved one, to go on an outdoor walk with a friend, to get away for a couple of days and go stay in an Airbnb, to spend Christmas with a few of their loved ones, this is not helping, it isn’t realistic, and it isn’t kind.
It isn’t fair, it isn’t good, and it isn’t realistic, with this going on now for nearly an entire year, to expect people to remain isolated and locked away in their homes.
It also isn’t fair or good, the people who are throwing all caution to the wind, who are going out to bars and restaurants, who are having parties and large get-togethers, and who refuse to wear masks.
Neither one of these is a solution.
And yet, none of us knows how long we have to live on this earth, with COVID or even without it. Not many of us are going to keep going along with living these diminished, isolated, half-lives indefinitely. Time is ticking. Thus, people are eventually going to throw up their hands and say, “I’m done with this. I want to actually live.” Especially the ones who have been following the rules, since, at some point, they are going to feel like “what’s the point anymore? It isn’t helping anyway.”
This is not necessarily a tact that is going to help dissipate COVID. Neither, though, are all the people doing whatever they please and not following any guidelines. But, when people decide they need to spend time with a few loved ones, this must be a choice all of us understand, at this point. One that each of us can access the empathy and understanding for to say, “I get it.”
Very few people want to get infected or get others sick. When people take risks, it often reflects an unmet need: for a paycheck, for social connection, for accurate information about how to protect themselves. Acknowledging and meeting people’s needs will reduce risk behavior; finger-wagging won’t, Julia Marcus points out in The Atlantic.
And people who continue to disregard COVID, whether this is through not wearing masks or heading out to crowded public places without masks and which are indoors, or hosting large parties indoors, well, they are diminishing and harming the lives of everyone by keeping COVID raging. They are just drawing this out more and more for all of us. And the rest of us? Eventually, we are going to break. No one can live isolated, diminished lives indefinitely.
If all of us had greater empathy, we would cease the shaming, be more understanding, more forgiving, and the people who refuse to wear masks might consider the notion differently. That by not doing so, they are taking away from and even wrecking the lives of all Americans. That with their choices, they are actually causing this wreckage to continue.
Something has gotta give.