Innate in the human spirit, our ability to resist protects us from the on rush of change. We push back in order to give ourselves time to embrace change and it’s meaning for our lives and way of life. The strong encouragement, by health officials, to wear facemasks, in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic has been met with a noticeable degree of resistance disbelieving citizens. The attached CNN article on the psychological roots of such resistance is helpful.
Adults usually bristle if forced to comply with regulations for which they see no immediate need. Especially in the West, the concept of personal liberty is as prized as life itself. Rationalization, avoidance, and resistance to overstepping authority pushes back on those charged with encouraging compliance. The current confusion generated by the fear of gullibility to so-called “Fake News” undermines the credibility of even legitimate health warnings and reports.
Thoughts of weakness, loss, and fear are not comfortable to most apparently healthy persons in our society. Therefore precautions, that emphasize these unwelcome qualities, are instinctively resisted. Even contemplating the personal threat of unseen susceptibility is not compelling enough to break through barriers of resistance. If it is not immediately ravaging our neighborhood, friends, and families we find a way to doubt that what is reported can affect us.
While mask-wearing is strongly recommended by health and state officials, it is not generally mandatory (carrying the force of law) in most public places. The option to ignore “official recommendation” is chosen. Shoppers, passengers, participants in public events generally relish the personal freedom to choose, even though compliance has long been practiced, in many places throughout our culture. Theatres, worship services, sporting events, dining out, driving personal vehicles, and attending learning events generally require certain degrees of compliance and uniformity to improve the quality of the event and safety for all involved. We accept most of these without question.
We do not bristle with requirements to don masks or gloves, even gowns while visiting friends in hospital rooms or quarantine. We accept those measures as specific to the setting and necessary to maintain a safe environment. Many medical offices have long encouraged the use of masks for patients exhibiting symptoms without general resistance. We wear 1masks to protect newborns without a thought of it curtailing our own sense of freedom or personal Constitutional rights. We simply comply.
Public transit drivers have become extensions of local public health officials. Drivers have been asked to encourage riders to wear masks when they ride, thus they have begun to experience noticeable resistance. Drivers are discovering that the added responsibility of regularly reminding passengers to comply adds to the general fatigue of the job. As a result, drivers are becoming more creative in confronting this natural resistance.
Modelling Preferred Behavior
Drivers lead the change in behavior by wearing facemasks when they first come to work. Public life has changed for the unforeseeable future. Maintaining a Social Distance of 6’ or more from other individuals, washing hands properly, and minimizing the risks, encountered in public travel. Drivers are aware and vigilant throughout their shifts: “Please use the hand cleaner after picking up that piece of paper from the floor.” “Please stand back, sir, remember to maintain social distance.”
The Indirect Approach
Most persons would rather come than go, they would rather follow than be pushed. For this reason, drivers are attempting to encourage rather than demand. They are complimenting passengers who are wearing masks and maintaining social distance, “Thanks for protecting others by wearing a facemask!” a driver may say. Drivers will attempt not to make a spectacle of one person’s behavior. They will often wait for non-masked passengers to settle in with others before making a general announcement, “Just a reminder folks, (notice, not order or demand) we are all asked to wear face masks (we are in this together) when we board the buses. The pandemic is NOT over. Please bring yours upon return.”
Recognize preferred behavior
We all prefer reminders of success to goads focusing on failure, we prefer reminders of our common hope to warnings of general disability. As a result, drivers constantly look for ways to encourage desired behavior in passengers without threatening or cajoling: “Way to go with that face mask, Joe. Thanks for protecting others.” Treating the reminder playfully invites others to play along: “So folks, the face mask of the day displayed the message, ‘BE PART OF THE ANSWER.’ Remember, face masks protect ourselves and others from an unseen risk.”
Care rather than criticism
Our lives are never short of critics. Other people seem to know what we did wrong, what decisions we should have made, and how to correct the jams in which we land, even as they appear clueless about their own. There are times when clarity seems elusive and we feel adrift at sea or pushed to the edge. In these times a listening ear is welcome. Even though there is little time for lengthy conversations, drivers may see the same passengers time and again, thus enabling them to listen, advise, and encourage.
A global event, such as a pandemic, changes life on many different levels. It inevitably leaves those who must experience it with unwelcome and confusing feelings. Decisions that involve personal security, job, home, and relationships, that seemed solid, before it started, now appear ephemeral and uncertain. Lives sometimes hang on tomorrow’s headlines. Personal well-being changes suddenly, without notice and, in some cases, promises to never return to its previous state of innocence. Familiar relationships become an anchor as never before.
We are in-the-midst of a gigantic human experience. It is something we have never experienced before in our history and potentially signals a vulnerability that may return in our lifetime. This is a bewildering reality with which we are faced. We are, however, resilient, creative, and persistent people. We will be challenged but not undone by events. This is the hope and the reality upon which we can rely.