SHAMING DOESN’T WORK
Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, says in her article in The Atlantic that shaming people for not wearing masks is counterproductive. She recommends that we follow the example of the organizations that distributed condoms during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and make disposable masks easily available where they’re most needed — at the front of stores or airports, for example. She also suggests that it might help if we make sure that masks fit well and look, well, cool. (In other words, make people want to wear them.)
In the SF Chronicle, writer Tony Bravo talks to etiquette experts about how — or rather, whether — to confront people who are not wearing masks in stores and other public spaces. It is generally agreed upon among these courtesy mavens that confrontation (besides being possibly dangerous) doesn’t work. Bravo quotes Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the famous etiquette expert Emily Post, as saying that it’s best to simply lead by example. “Our brains can want to punish or shame people who aren’t following the rules. That never gets people on your side. The thing you can do is control yourself and do everything you can to protect yourself.”
And don’t assume you know why they’re not wearing masks, points out Aziza Ahmed, a professor who specializes in health law at Northeastern University. There are people with legitimate health reasons for not wearing a mask. Sometimes it’s best to simply ask them to step back if they get too close for comfort.
Perhaps it may help to acknowledge those who do recognize the need for care. On a recent morning, I was walking on a narrow sidewalk and a man who had obviously just finished a jog turned the corner onto my street, his mask around his neck. As soon as he saw me, however, he immediately put the mask in place. As we passed each other, we nodded in recognition of our mutual courtesy, and then went our separate ways.