• Lisa Gottlieb

The masked and unmasked through the lens of NVC


From reading about and witnessing first hand the reactivity and violence associated with those who refuse to wear a mask in public (not those refusing for authentic medical conditions of which there are few) one of the underlying issues seems to be a dismissal and scorn for those who express fear of contracting COVID 19. This doesn't surprise me, because for those who reject care of other people through compassionate actions that ask them to value this trait (empathy and compassion as an important aspect of our social contract like mask wearing) there is a disconnect between scientific reality and their own need to put themselves first, without consideration for others. When a person doesn't have that level of easily accessible empathy, any expression of vulnerability, concern or fear stimulates disdain, judgment, dismissal, and rejection of the needs of others. It's a subtle form of dehumanization, making someone else "other" to more easily ignore them, and focus on their own preferences instead. It's similar to the neighborhood bully, who is quick to name call "scaredy cat" and "cry baby" as an insult and intimidation tactic to humiliate and shame. We all know though, that bullies are often victims themselves and act out their own fears and humiliation through terrorizing others. This doesn't make their actions acceptable, yet making non-mask wearing individuals "monsters", "cruel", "evil" and "stupid" leads to more divisive separation and increases the politicalization of mask use, instead of continuing to keep this an issue of public health. This is overwhelmingly difficult to do (to keep judgments in check about those who disagree with mask wearing as a political issue) as their choices to do as they wish leads to real danger to others, including the older, more vulnerable populations, and the health care workers who treat everyone, mask wearers and rule followers or not. The most infuriating, disturbing and heartbreaking thing for me (and maybe for you too) is how the complete lack of leadership from the Republican party and the president to treat this pandemic as a terrifying and grave public health issue (instead of a political issue) creates more polarization and "us vs. them", which is not only the typical and expected response from this administration, but also feeds the continuation of moving farther apart from each other, instead of closer together, where we can find common ground and make safe and smart public health decisions. Below is part of an article that discusses the impact of politcalizing the issues of mask wearing, from The Deseret News, and the article called, Is Going Maskless a Rejection of Science? A Sign of Freedom? Or None of the Above? ~~While people may have different reasons for avoiding masks, experts worry about the potential life-and-death consequences of polarizing public health guidance by turning face coverings into political statements. Because once someone settles on an opinion, shares that opinion with their social group and incorporates that opinion into their sense of self, it becomes significantly more difficult to change it, even when faced with evidence to the contrary, says Jonas Kaplan, a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant research professor of psychology at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute. “If that’s what mask wearing is becoming — a signal for social identity — then that’s going to be a very difficult thing to deal with,” he said. “Separating ourselves into mask wearers and nonwearers would be a bad idea.” Because once someone settles on an opinion, shares that opinion with their social group and incorporates that opinion into their sense of self, it becomes significantly more difficult to change it, even when faced with evidence to the contrary, says Jonas Kaplan, a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant research professor of psychology at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute.~~ The fact is, humans have different levels of empathy and compassion built into their brains. For some, access to empathy and compassion is easily accessible, sometimes at a cost to themselves, while others simply don't have the same brain chemistry and patterns for empathy and compassion, and these people can appear uncaring, inconsiderate and selfish. The good news is empathy and compassion are "muscles" that can become stronger with use. Hidden Brain, the podcast and radio show hosted by Shankar Vedantam addresses these issues regularly, and I highly recommend listening. Ultimately, what can we do as we navigate being in the world as safely as we can during this continuing pandemic? I certainly don't know the answer for everyone, and access to resources, power, financial stability, and privilege play a large part in how we make choices. For myself, I wear my mask in public, avoid places like large stores and shopping where more people gather and the chances of those not wearing masks are higher, whenever possible. I don't see it as my role (due to issues of safety) to confront, even in a friendly way, someone who is not wearing a mask- instead I simply leave the area and go in a different direction when possible. I'm ok telling someone like a manager or owner that someone is not wearing their mask, however I don't expect them to confront the person either- it's not safe to do so. On a larger scale, I am actively working to change the political climate through supporting candidates who are not in our current administration, and continuing to support Gretchen Whitmer, who in my view has been strong, smart and fierce in her care for Michiganders through this scary time. Stay safe friends, and take good, gentle care as you decide for yourself how to navigate these deeply distressing times.





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