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May 23, 2020

COVID-19: Masks and Peer Support

I read an article earlier today about an individual who saw a group of cyclists, none of whom were wearing helmets.  None of them even had a helmet…except one person, who had it clipped to her backpack.  The writer asked the question: “Why would someone have a helmet with them but not wear it?”

The answer, it turns out, is that people are willing to risk their lives to fit in with their friends.  In fact, it turns out that people are willing to risk their lives for a lot of reasons, not just to fit in.

I found this question, and answer, particularly relevant in this time of the Corona Virus when we should all be making mindful choices – for ourselves and each other.  I know that there were things I did when I was young and stupid to fit in with my friends that definitely put my life at risk.  But, I asked myself if I would do those things now?  Would you?

As I have gotten older and more comfortable with who I am I am less inclined to do things to “fit in” or get approval.  I can’t say that I would never do something to feel more connected to my friends – which is, after all, what we are trying to do.  However, I would absolutely not do something to put my life at risk, not anymore.  Another realization that comes with age is that life is finite, and you should value it while you still have it, not risk it for approval.

So we know that peer pressure can be a negative thing.  But, used properly, peer support can be a positive thing, and I think that is what we should be promoting.  We should not be trying to shame people into wearing masks, but asking people to be considerate.  It won’t always work; especially in this day and age when so many are only focused on themselves.  But I believe that most people are more caring than careless.

So, instead of risking your life to fit in with your friends or feeling like you’re giving up your rights or feeling like people are overreacting about nothing; let’s slow down and take care of those around us.  Let’s look at our friends and families and ask ourselves how we can best care for them.

None of us have ever had to face the challenges that we are being asked to face right now.  The unknown is terrifying and many times, when we are scared, our first reaction is defensiveness and/or anger.  Many of us have lost things because of this pandemic.  As a reaction, we are trying to hold on to the things we can control, like our choices and our rights, sometimes fiercely.  When I’m afraid I know it is so hard to think clearly and objectively…I know how hard it is to put myself in someone else’s place so that I can try to see things from their perspective.

But that is what we have to try to do.  We have to try harder to be less reactive and more aware.  We have to try harder to be full of care and compassion and not anger.  If we want to get through this challenge and come out better, stronger, and kinder we have to seek our own approval – we have to decide what kind of person we want to be in this world – without feeling like we have to conform but still trying to be kind.

I remember one of my favorite quotes from the movie “Men in Black” when Agent Kay says, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”  Right now, we need to be smart.  We do not need to be people who are reacting and panicking and behaving dangerously, but individuals who are smart and considerate and who are compassionate towards other individuals.

When I was growing up I remember running around our neighborhood and not only knowing I was safe, but knowing I needed to be mindful of how I behaved; because everyone watched out for everyone else.  We have lost that community to a large degree.  But, we can choose to take some of that back; the best parts of it.  Looking out for our neighbors, caring for those closest to us, making choices that take not just ourselves into account, but our families, friends, and co-workers.  We can’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it first.  If we want things to change – to get better – we have to start making choices that support that.

Then, and this is really important, we have to be kind to ourselves, too.  Because let’s be honest, it isn’t always going to work.  We are not always going to be the better person.  We are not always going to make the unselfish choice.  We are not always going to be smart, considerate, compassionate individuals.  Sometimes we are going to be dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.  But not always.  We have choices, and if we keep trying to make better choices, eventually we will start seeing the gifts that will come from those choices.

I feel like we have lost the knowledge that we are all connected.  This is an important truth and I believe it has been forgotten.  My choices do not just affect me.  In fact, my choices, my behaviors – good or bad – can cause ripples that can have long term effects that I am not able to predict.  I know that mindfulness is a very popular buzzword these days, but do we really understand what it is?  Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed.  So, firstly it is a basic human ability.  That means we all have it.  To be fully present, aware of where we are, and what we’re doing; so to consciously consider the consequences of the choices we make.  And not be overly reactive or overwhelmed; so to be aware of where someone else might be in their choices and try not to be overly reactive or be overwhelmed by how they are impacting you.

This is a big ask.  I’m not trying to lie to you or kid myself.  This takes work and some days I am not going to want to put in the work.  But, I know for myself, most of the time I do want to try to be better, to grow, to strive.  I want people to know that I cared about them, not just because of the words I say, but because of how I behaved and took care of them.  I don’t want to make choices to fit in.  I want to make choices to love, care, support, and be kind.  I want the world to be better because I was here.  What do you want?

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