On being ... thoughtful

By Ingrid Sapona       

I’m sure I’m not the only one tired of reading about peoples’ opinions about facemasks. Indeed, I’ve already done a column about that. So, it is with a bit of hesitation that I set out on today’s column, as I fear you’ll tune out thinking this’ll be more of the same. Honestly, though facemasks will be mentioned, I promise the context is different.

My inspiration for today’s column was an entertaining article I came across on COVID etiquette by Dorothy Woodend, a writer/editor at the Tyee in British Columbia. The sub-head to the article is really what drew me in: “The pandemic confounded the rules of how we relate to one another.” Woodend raised some interesting questions and points about how to behave in different situations. So, I thought it would be fun to share a few of her insights so that you can – as I did – compare your views to hers.

For example, if you run into someone you know and you’re wearing a mask and they’re not, should you remove your mask to talk with them? Woodend wondered whether leaving it on in such a situation might be seen as virtue signalling. Gosh, I never gave a thought to what might be appropriate in that situation. I suppose, depending on the other person’s sensitivities, you could be seen as being passive aggressive regardless of what you do in that case. Oi… how complicated social interations have gotten!

That whole question of how you react to – and feel about – other people’s COVID-related behavior is interesting. The other day I was waiting a long time for the elevator in my building and when if finally arrived, the lone guy in it waved me off to indicate he didn’t want me to get in with him. Naturally, I nodded in assent and stayed put. But, behind my mask, I was annoyed. As I waited for the lift to return, I reminded myself that everyone’s entitled to their own comfort level in enclosed spaces and that I shouldn’t judge.

Another question Woodend touches on his how to welcome folks and demonstrate that you come peaceably. It never occurred to me that the handshake might have developed as a way to show to a stranger that you don’t have a knife or other object you could use to hurt them. But now, handshakes are off limits, as even a hand empty of weapons could carry the virus that could do grave harm to others. Woodend joked that maybe we’ll end up resorting to some sort of weird social dance where we “wave, flail and contort to convey good will”. Being a self-conscious dancer, I’m thinking it might be better to opt for the silly-seeming elbow bump alternative.

The need for clear enunciation is also something we’re all going to value more, as we try to understand folks through their mask. Might elocution classes ala Henry Higgins come back into vogue, Woodend posits. At a minimum, I imagine folks will have to learn to speak louder or be prepared to repeat things. Humour aside, I have thought about how wearing masks has made daily interactions so much harder for people with hearing problems who rely – even a little – on lip reading. Maybe now that many of us are experiencing the challenge of understanding people talking through masks, we’ll understand how profoundly hearing impacts daily life. Perhaps, as a society, we’ll end up doing more to support and help those with hearing problems.

As social creatures, I think there’s something to be said for paying attention to how we conduct ourselves vis-à-vis each other. I think that’s really what manners are all about – customary behaviours that are meant to facilitate smoother social interactions. (Or, as one reader of Ms. Woodend’s article put it, however crudely: Manners are the KY of social intercourse.)

Given that COVID’s changed so many aspects of daily living, it was bound to impact our social interactions, right? And, all change requires adjustment, which definitely can be challenging. But if we approach social interactions with a bit of a sense of humour and an open heart, I think we’ll manage. And who knows, maybe increased thoughtfulness, understanding, and kindness to others will also be a COVID legacy.

What do you think? Any particular changes in etiquette you hope will become the norm in the post-pandemic world?

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


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