What are constructive ways to interact to people refusing to wear masks during the pandemic?
Have you been in a public place, dutifully wearing a face mask, while staring at naked faces?
Maybe you even approached a mask-free individual to demand they cover up. That person might have responded by asking whether you knew anyone who died from COVID-19. A tiny part of you believed the conversation might go well—until they began laughing.
Now, you’re angry. An argument ensues. You have the presence of mind to walk away. A few hours later, you write a Facebook post about the interaction. Friends encourage your outrage and share their conflicts with people who refuse to wear masks.
That’s one popular way to handle the experience of seeing unmasked faces in public spaces. But if you want to make a difference, take steps to prepare yourself to talk to a naked face.
Detox your emotions: The pandemic has ignited our grief, anger, fear and depression, which means many of us are carrying more negative emotions than we would otherwise. When feelings overwhelm us, our bodies seek release. People who don’t wear masks become easy targets. But before instructing strangers on the benefits of wearing a mask, school yourself on why you’re triggered.
A portion of what you’re feeling lived in you long before the pandemic. For whatever reason, those feelings were bottled up and are seeking opportunities to explode. Schedule time with a therapist, a life coach or your journal, and get honest. How can you reduce the emotional drama you bring to conversations about the importance of wearing a mask?
Clear your head: Examine the thoughts you’re having about those naked faces. See how each thought is also true about you. Projection is a defense mechanism in which we place our negative traits and unwanted emotions on others.
Here’s a simple philosophical exercise that softens the ego and makes civil conversation easier. If your thought is, “They don’t care about older people like me,” find yourself in the thought: “I don’t care about younger people like them.” Before you clap back that you do care and that’s why you want everyone to wear a mask, consider how compassionate your words would be if caring was a priority: “I notice you’re not wearing a mask. Please stay safe. I worry about the health of your generation.”
Talk to strangers: Chat with strangers, but don’t correct or reprimand them. Avoid mentioning health issues. Focus the conversation on something that doesn’t require you to judge. Speak as equals—regardless of age, education, appearance or socioeconomic status, yours or theirs. Pay attention to whether you try to bond via wounds (“Quarantine is so hard!”), nostalgia (“I can’t wait for things to return to normal”) or something else. Practice bonding from a position of wholeness.
Feel annoyed after reading that conversations about mask-wearing require preparation? I feel you. We’ve been misled throughout our lives about the nature of communication. It’s more than just opening our mouths and sharing what’s on our mind. Communication requires internal excavation on an ongoing basis. With mounting tensions due to the pandemic and other crises, we need to commit to developing these skills now.
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