I don't know about you, but the COVID-19 pandemic has partially transformed me into a paranoid maniac always armed with bottles of disinfectant and a rant on the tip of my tongue.
Even though some of these behaviors could be considered justified (after all, I suffer from chronic arthritis and am on a range of medications which make me more vulnerable to the coronavirus), I feel as if I have lost touch with some of the more positive aspects of my personality.
I'm probably not alone in this experience. Perhaps like me, you also hold conversations by shouting from the end of the street, because you can never have too much distance between you and others amid a plague.
It's likely that all of us have developed different kinds of defense mechanisms – from acting as if there is no pandemic and purposefully forgetting about this very real health threat that has affected over 20 million people worldwide to avoiding people like the plague.
These differences in dealing with such crises have stirred up differences of opinion even over wearing masks. Whether it's the crowds protesting against mandatory masks or those more conflict-avoidant folks who wear a mask with their noses sticking out of it, the rule dodging has stirred up even more stress among those who are following preventative measures recommended or mandated by health officials.
Dealing with such situations can be delicate, and I personally tried different approaches to find a solution before consulting an expert (my psychologist). Hopefully, my experiences and her advice can be helpful for others in navigating this public health crisis.
I started on the wrong (and very passive-aggressive) foot to spur change at first. But neither loudly clearing my throat next to these people and furrowing my eyebrows nor shooting daggers with my eyes helped to resolve the problem. Making comments under my breath and going off on short rants also did nada – apart from getting a few weird looks.
Then I started giving these mask-averse people that "deer in headlights" look or I tried to smile with my eyes like top fashion model Tyra Banks (though looking back now, I am positive that my expression was more like Thandie Newton's "pee face" on the Graham Norton Show). This approach did actually – on the rare occasion – manage to prompt people to wear their mask properly, but again, most of the time it got me nowhere.
Turks have this saying "tatlı dil yılanı deliğinden çıkarır," which in the literal sense means that with kind words you could even charm a snake out of its den. But it corresponds more to "a soft answer turneth away wrath," so be kind and avoid further anger or trouble, to put it simply.
Well, speaking from experience, I can say that is not true – at least 40% of the time.
I tried playing nice at first and used my kind words to get people to wear their masks. My warnings produced three results: a nasty comeback, complete nonchalance or annoyed compliance.
For those that took no notice of me, I realized I had to be in a position of power and authority to make myself heard. Considering that I am vertically-challenged (5'2" on a good day), I knew I was not going to achieve the results I desired. So, I resorted to going to whoever was in charge to express my discontent with the violation of the rules.
Some of these people "in charge" got defensive pretty quick, arguing that they were already issuing enough warnings and couldn't possibly do more. Then, when I casually mention the fact that I am a journalist and they should know that the surgical masks they wear don't guarantee 100% protection, and hence leaves them at incredible risk as well, the 180-degree turn is unbelievable.
Now in light of these experiences, here is what worked. For the sake of this piece, I shall call it the "new normal etiquette" and how to deal with science-denying folks when it comes to mask-wearing and social distancing.
Rule No. 1: We're all in this together.
To get people to act responsibly, my psychologist says, is to not use "otherizing" language. So no "you" and more "we." For example, when asking someone to stay away from you, try rephrasing it in a more inclusive way. Ask instead: "Could we please put some social distance, a bit more space between us?"
She concurs that only those with authority can help you enforce the rules, so the ranting or kind warnings can do more harm than good. But you need to bring it to their attention.
Rule No. 2: No lectures, please.
Time after time, I have noticed that lecturing of any kind usually fails. You can try to explain step-by-step why these rules are important or why the Turkish health minister has been pleading on Twitter every day, but no, you might as well be talking to a wall.
Rule No. 3: Don't try to control others.
Like everything in life, it boils down to this: you cannot control what happens to you or others' behavior, so try to focus on things you can control. What sort of measures you are willing to take and the way you react to events are things you can control. Just step aside, walk away or leave the premises, stresses my psychologist, if the people around you haven't evolved enough to value others' lives.
Rule No. 4: Ensure mutual consent and understanding.
If you are planning to meet up with a friend or get invited to an event you don't want to miss, be prepared. Ask questions in advance about how many people will be joining, if the space has adequate ventilation and how willing people are to stick to the rules. This makes sure you are all on the same page.
Rule No. 5: Keep thy mask off the table.
And also, when taking off your mask after entering a friend's house (an act you have both consented to) or you are out at dinner, don't put your mask on the table, either put it in your pocket or purse.
Rule No. 6: Mind your own business.
When out in public the best strategy is to keep to your own socially distanced bubble. If the sidewalks get crowded, just cross the road and put some distance between you and them.
As much as other mask-averse people on the streets may annoy the living daylights out of you, as long as they constitute no direct threat to you or they are not within your personal space, in the words of Disney's Elsa, let it go.