Is it just me, or is anyone else getting overly concerned about other people's behaviour as we make our way in this new world of living alongside Covid-19?
I am the queen of conflict avoidance. I will run, wailing, away from anything that resembles confrontation. If anyone ever confronts me, I immediately go deaf. The blood rushes into my head, flushing my face, obscuring my ability to hear. It passes momentarily, and then the tears come. I have no interest in arguing with anyone, ever, about anything. I'd much rather walk away, have a cry and then start an unnecessary text conversation where intonation and meaning can get confused and mixed up, just to make everything worse.
It's a big and complicated decision whether or not to comment on a stranger's behaviour in a shared public space. I have watched and not said anything when someone doesn't clean up after their dog. I don't know what to say and I'm afraid of a sharp escalation and becoming suddenly out of my depth.
Things have changed
I have picked up other people's cigarette butts in front of them rather than say anything accusatory. I beep the horn if someone is driving like a lunatic, but then a say a few Hail Marys in the hope that they don't stop their car and walk back towards me.
Things have changed now, though. There are signs everywhere with the new social rules and expectations. Two metres, as a distance, never thought it would become this famous. Wearing a mask and coughing into your elbow have been memorialised by graphic designers and are hanging up in yellow all over the place. Forgetting is impossible. These new rules bring with them new questions about what to do when someone isn't following them.
If someone stands too close, or coughs into the air, or spits in the street, or refuses to wear a mask beside you, do you say something? If a restaurant, shop or cafe is not monitoring crowds or following guidelines, do we say silent?
It's hard to be magnanimous, to be the bigger person, when others are not making the sacrifices you are making - and doing it right in front of you.
Studies show that if you're trying to change someone's mind or their behaviour, shaming them is pretty ineffective. The best way to influence someone to adapt is through empathy and giving them the benefit of the doubt. But boy, is it tough when everyone is stressed-out and fearful for their own health.
When I see people not following the rules, the role I play sometimes feels thankless and frustrating. Watching people coming and going from shops with no queuing system makes me feel that every tiny step I take feels maddeningly slow. I have to remember that it is not my responsibility to get people to wear masks or queue.
When I stand in line and look around at other people, I seem to only notice people who are doing it wrong. I try not to; I try to be positive and look at all the rule-abiding, metre-calculating people. It's the same as social media, really. I am lucky enough to be met with a wall of support and endorsement on social media when something I have created goes public. There are always a few critics though, and (I know how inelegant it is to rebut all criticism of your work) often they haven't even seen whatever it is they are criticising. They're just being mean keyboard warriors as a response to some of their own internal damage. I might get 100 supportive tweets, but it's the isolated lone-wolf tweet that manages to get under my skin and ruin my day.
So here I am in a shopping queue somewhere outside the M50, and it's just the personal-space invaders I can see. I watch them and anxiously imagine little virus molecules as their aura. I look at parts of the shopping centre that look like they're in 'the olden days'. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of a crowd or people having carefree hugs and I can't stop myself from imagining our flattened curve swelling up again like a bloated stomach. Do we have to retread old ground to learn the lesson? Are we destined to be drawn back into a lockdown we thought we'd escaped?
I try to put a positive spin on it as I stand in line. Negativity breeds anxiety and resentment in me and I seriously don't need to be adding to my worries myself. I try to reframe the frustration of future setbacks as a second chance; an opportunity to try and do things better.
I tighten my mask around my sore ears and I step into the store. Now what was it that was so urgent? Oh yeah, new runners.
Sunday Indo Living