In these times of social break, we must accept that things will get awkward, writes Pallas Hupé Cotter.
I have a friend who is a hug, and people who know me know that I am a hug. I even signed an email with "A hug, Pallas." So it's hard for me to be able to push people away, say "stop!", Or stop myself when given the opportunity to embrace.
But I must find a way. Quick
We all must learn to put aside our social impulses that have been ingrained during Covid-19 survive. Instead, we must give "social approval" to be anti-social, at least for now.
I just realized how difficult this is when I travel from a small town that I now call home to the "big smoke" of Wellington, my former home. At that time no cases of Covid-19 were reported in the capital. It was about a week before social break became a thing, but talk of the virus was still in the air, so to speak. It feels like it's inevitable and I find myself struggling with how to react. I have difficulty overcoming my human tendency to share warm greetings with my old friends. It's hard to put aside my training to be polite.
Two friends who make daily contact with elderly relatives try to keep their distance, but I forget myself and hug a friend at the end of the meeting. One of. I facilitated the conference with several international participants, and because of polite behavior, reached out to shake hands. Error two. Come out hand sanitizer, quietly..
In a desperate attempt to avoid the three attacks, I awkwardly tried something I had just read on the road to our meeting place with the next person I met. When I went in for an elbow lump, confusion crossed his face. And yes, that's really embarrassing. But when I explained to him what I was doing, he was enthusiastic and tried it on others.
This is what "social agreement" is like. And now, it is very much needed.
Of course, I then wonder, what's the use of a lump in the elbow when we all share tapas and drinks less than 1.5 meters away from each other? Snap! Now I know that this is my third mistake.
Much has changed since my trip, and every day we get new advice on how to keep ourselves and others safe. That means there are many things we must learn when navigating. This will require the use of common sense, summon critical thinking skills and learn new ways to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally.
We must train ourselves to be anti-social. Not forever. But for now
I know that doesn't feel entirely real. I can't be the only one who wakes up with the latest updates on my news feed thinking that maybe I'm still dreaming. The last time I felt this was after Trump was elected. It takes time for our brains to catch up with new realities that are fast changing and unknown, but reality is starting to sink in. We haven't been back in business as usual for a while. There is no time to "wait and see" - there is no room for rejection.
It also feels like a test of how rational humans can be. To see if we can refuse to give up, either because of excessive fear or social pressure. Letting go of caring about what other people think (we are struggling to do) and doing what is ethically right. Sacrificing for the greater good, not only prioritizing our own desires, needs, and personal comfort.
So here's how I will change what I do, how I react in social situations:
- I would imagine a bubble around me every time I walked out the door and tried not to pop it.
- I would wave and smile at people and then cross my arms to give a sign that it was my greeting.
- I will strengthen myself to suppress excessive sighs and roll eyes that may follow.
- I will prepare my language, a sentence that has been trained, which might sound like this: "I know it might seem unnecessary, but why take the risk? What will be lost, really?"
As simple as it seems, being anti-social requires preparation and practice.
As someone who only knows the risk is mild asthma, I will continue to leave my home, become active and support local businesses. I will take any precautions around sanitation and maintain the social distance recommended by experts. I will check my canned food supplies (and yes, toilet paper) in case I need to isolate myself. By the way, this must all be in our earthquake kit.
In fact, I continue to think this is a running practice for more deadly outbreaks or natural disasters. Learning opportunities for governments to learn how to act faster, ensure they are well supplied, and communicate more effectively; for businesses (which can survive today) to build resilience in response to rapid changes in the market; and for us personally to think before we act, make choices based on information, and learn new ways to behave to minimize risks to ourselves and others.
And that includes being ready to be judged as someone who reacts too much by people who are hesitant, not worrying about being deemed rude or anti-social by others, and stopping my impulse to greet people with warm hugs. At least I can still do it in writing.