A few weeks ago, many of us were wondering when life was going to be back to normal again. In the past days, we’ve had the terrible story of Afghanistan and the natural disasters in Haiti and who’s now talking about Covid?
Funny how the world moves on so fast.
Just for a moment, I’m just going to pop back to that pandemic time. The time when no-one was looking for missing Foreign Secretaries (who knew he’d managed to escape the country and gone off to Crete for a holiday) or US Presidents and were simply wondering whether or not they should be wearing a mask.
Sorry to sound so trivial but it’s something I’ve noticed quite a bit in the weeks since we were told masks would be voluntary and it was up to the individual to decide if you wanted to protect your neighbour by wearing a mask or if you’d rather be a bad citizen and not do so, particularly in crowded places.
At the beginning of the time when the pandemic was officially declared in Britain – March 2020 – I remember hearing an NHS consultant declaring absolutely and emphatically than masks did not make a difference. “Right,” I thought. “I’ve been told by someone with much more expertise and knowledge than I have, so I’ll be guided by him. I won’t wear one.”
Gradually, the advice changed. We were locked down, told to go out to exercise no more than once a day and only shop when absolutely necessary. We complied, to the declared surprise of those who governed us, and the edicts came through quicker and faster. If you were interested in the psychology of humans, it was fascinating.
Our belief that we were a nation of freedom-loving individuals seemed to disappear in an instance. We complied and complied and complied. And now, some 18 months later and with some very public misbehaviour by those who insisted we had to do it, there are a good few of us who feel so afraid they appear to want society to remain in some form of lockdown for a good while yet.
The evidence is all around you. Look on the street (in the open air) there are people of all ages who are still masked up. If you have venture into a shop without a mask, you may find yourself being looked at, and not with approval. It’s a little intimidating.
I was stopped and asked by a (masked) security guard at an exhibition I was attending why I was not wearing a mask. I told him I wasn’t obliged to as the rules post-July 19 had changed and it was up to me to decide whether I wished to wear one. He continued to disagree so I pulled the exempt card. Before you feel annoyed with me yourself, I can assure you I have been offered an exemption certificate. However, when mask-wearing was compulsory, I chose to conform, for the sake of others.
The guard nodded sagely and probably mumbled something that I didn’t hear because of his mask and we left it there. He went back to his seat in the corner and I continued to walk around, feeling awkward and aware that I was being looked at by others. I didn’t like that at all. I felt like I was behaving in some sort of anti-social way when I wasn’t. I was behaving within the law and exercising my right to choose.
You might wonder why not just stick with wearing the mask, until the fear dies down or more people decide to put theirs away. I wonder that too but that leaves me feeling I am allowing my rights to be eroded bit by bit. As a psychotherapist/counsellor, part of my job is to help people to come to their own conclusions about what – within the law – is right for them. How can I encourage others to stand firm in their beliefs if I am so easily swayed in mine?
A colleague told me of their own experience travelling outside their recently imposed comfort zone and onto a (not-so) smart motorway. They told me how a journey they usually found easy and painless was fraught. Fellow drivers, they said, seemed to slam on the brakes at every opportunity. Some drivers sped past them appearing to be going dangerously fast but most were very much erring on the cautious side and that in itself was alarming. Too fast is dangerous but driving too slowly on a motorway that has no safe parking space brings its own risks too.
Who cares, you may ask?
Fair enough, some might say. But not me. I say I – you, we – must care. It matters. The whole point of being an adult is that we take responsibility for ourselves, make our own decisions and take our own (measured) risk. It’s what life is all about. If we allow ourselves to be put into such a position of fear that we need to look to others – our political leaders – to tell us what to do, we are being taken back to a child state and how does that help us with our own individual journey through life? Think about it.
The Sage committee has been advising the government on managing its people during this pandemic. It has around 23 members, some of whom are behavioural psychologists. The government was afraid that the British would not obey. With the help of its advisers, our leaders have found ways to persuade us to obey beyond their wildest dreams. Fear is a powerful motive and have we all been frightened!
I’m not suggesting you stop caring about protecting yourself and others from this frightening virus. I’ve had my vaccinations and am not yet ready for the all-night raves. I’m still treading cautiously. But I’m also keen to take back control of my life. Removing my mask is the way I plan to start.
Photo 1: Evgeni Tcherkassi on Unsplash
Photo 2: Crawford Jolly on Unsplash
Photo 3: Belinda Fewings on Unsplash