If you see someone who isn’t wearing a mask in public, what do you do?

E. Simon-Thomas, the leading University of California Berkeley expert on the neuroscience and psychology of compassion, kindness, gratitude and pro-social skills, added: “Etiquette is a way for people to get along in situations that are ambiguous, which is what we find ourselves in now.”

Socially safe etiquette during COVID-19 is more important now than it has ever been. Emily Post, famous etiquette expert, once said that considering the rights and feelings of others is the “very foundation upon which social life is built.”

People want to be equipped with the tools they need to handle that awkward situation when you see someone not wearing a mask in public. Do you just avoid them? Do you approach them? It can be hard to know. After all, confrontations over masks have gone viral on social media when they haven’t gone well.

“Resisting pressure to confront people who don’t wear masks may be difficult,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, WI. “Identifying our frustration with how ‘not everyone is doing their part’ to fight the pandemic may cause us to be confrontational.”

Being sensitive to the fact that we don’t know why someone might not be following public health guidance is important. You just might have to leave or create some distance. It is becoming increasingly acceptable to say things like:

  • “Please stand back.”
  • “Please stand away from me.”

Remember, the tone of your voice and a smile soften how you say something.

Here are some examples of ways to resolve mask conflict without confrontation:

  • In a store, go down a different aisle to get to your destination.
  • On a walk in your neighborhood, cross the street and walk on the opposite sidewalk.
  • At a gas station, know your surroundings and pick a pump with nobody on the other side.
  • At the bank, use the drive-thru instead of going in.
  • Choose curb-side pick-up to get a bite to eat and take it home to eat instead of eating in a restaurant.
  • Choose a restaurant that has outdoor seating options.

“We can educate our family and friends about the importance of protecting others,” says Dr. Barakat. You can offer “gentle” reminders to wear a mask around you so that you feel comfortable.

In the end, the only person you can control is yourself.

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