The other day, I was in a Target Store and the sign on the door noted that facial masks were recommended.
I wondered why they were not mandatory. But that is another issue.
As I walked around the store wearing a mask, I noticed that, while most people were masked, several people, usually young adults, had no masks.
While I did not say anything, I was a bit annoyed by their, to me, careless behavior.
Let me explain.
In many states, citizens are emerging from a total lockdown due to the contagious nature of the virus. We are now in “Phase 2” with more places opening up and people venturing out.
People have been advised to continue to engage in social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet away from others and to avoid large gatherings and non-critical travel.
Specific impacted group such as the elderly or the immune system impaired are still being advised to self-isolate until we get a better grasp of where the virus is (mass testing) and how best to deal with it.
But, let’s get back to the source of my annoyance in the Target Store.
I was annoyed because these people who were not wearing masks were thinking only of themselves. They could be contagious, without knowing it or having symptoms, and could unwittingly be spreading the virus.
To put it another way, they were being selfish. They did not seem to understand that there were other people in their world who could be negatively impacted by their actions. In other words, they are, whether they know it or not in an implied relationship with those around them.
The Relationship Issue
I would like to look at our interactions with others (in the context of the virus) as a relationship issue.
The message that you hear repeated over and over when it comes to the virus is that “We are all in this together.”
While this is true, what does it really mean?
Well, there are two interrelated aspects to this message: the facts and our responsibilities.
I. The facts: the virus is easily spread between people.
The first, and most obvious, aspect of being in this together, is that we need to think of others because, given the nature of the virus and the way that it is transmitted, we can unwittingly infect another person.
Or, they can infect us.
And, given that you can be both symptom free and contagious, your lack of being careful can end up killing your grandma or someone else whose underlying conditions leave them vulnerable.
So, if the virus is a boat, we are all in the boat—together.
Which leads us to the second aspect of “We are all in this together.”
II. Specifically: interpersonal responsibility.
Secondly, we live in an interconnected world where we impact, need, and are impacted by other people.
In other words, because we are all in the boat together and what we do impacts others, we need to think about the responsibility that exits between us and others.
This is called interpersonal responsibility.
I’d like to unpack the issue of interpersonal responsibility as it is implied in the notion that we are all in this together but is not often addressed.
There are two ways to look at the issue of our responsibility toward others.
- On the one hand, we are responsible TO others.
- On the other hand, we may be responsible FOR others.
These two aspects of interpersonal responsibility are not mutually exclusive and both can be operative at the same time.
Responsible FOR (obligation):
I’ll start with being responsible for others as it is the most common and easiest concept to understand.
If we have elderly parents or kids we are taking care of or friends with underlying conditions which make them vulnerable, the lines of responsibility are clear.
They may not be able to totally take care of themselves and need our help, support, guidance, and involvement. We know what we need to do and we do it.
Responsibility here is almost an obligation.
We take the necessary precautions including hand washing to insure that we do not transmit the virus. We parent our kids to help them get through this pandemic.
In one sense, then, we have an obligation to others not to spread the virus.
Responsible TO (do the RIGHT thing):
Being responsible to others is both less clear and often unacknowledged.
Our collective response to the Corona Virus challenges us to be responsible to others.
We do what needs to be done because they are the right things to do.
There are two elements to the concept of responsibility to:
- The first is that, because you are doing the right thing, you do what needs to be done whether or not, at least initially, the other person does what they need to do.
- Secondly, in order to help you do this, I am suggesting that you consider “everyone” you interact with (for at least as long as the pandemic exists) as being in a relationship with you.
Note: Treating others as if you have a relationship with them will be equally as important after the pandemic but to continue to do this is up to you.
Other people as “placeholders”
We often do not think of the actions we take with others who have no meaning to us.
They are “placeholders” in that they exist and may come into contact with us but we ignore them and move past them without acknowledging them because they are, at least to us, insignificant.
Significant, or meaningful, people
Those people with whom we have a relationship have some value or meaning to us and we take the time we need to acknowledge them and choose how we can best interact with them.
In this pandemic: Every interaction is a relationship..
Having a relationship with someone means…
- that they are more than just a placeholder to you and
- that they are a person who is serving a “meaningful” purpose in your life.
The definition of “meaningful” will vary from situation to situation.
When it comes to the virus, saving your own or another’s life should fit the definition of meaningful.
Indeed, the fact is that if we don’t all act together to “reduce the curve” of infections, people may die.
A very real scenario is that hospitals could get overwhelmed with too many cases and some person who did not follow social distancing and other recommended strategies, might infect you (or someone else) and the infected person dies because the hospital is too overwhelmed to provided treatment.
If we are indeed all in this together, then each of us is meaningful to the other. By definition, this means that we are in a relationship with each other.
An important element of being in a relationship is that you do the right thing whether or not the other person does what they need to do.
There are two elements here.
1. The first is that, in reality, the only behavior you have direct control over is yours. You can always choose what actions you take. You need to do the right thing both because it is the right thing to do and because you can’t decide what someone else will do.
So,I wear a mask and I maintain social distancing.
2. Secondly, it is also true that you can influence or indirectly impact what the other person does.
In the context of the virus, your doing the right thing can indirectly serve as a Model for other people. They see you doing the right thing and may decide that also need to do the right thing.
The bottom line…
The point here is that you tend to do the right thing for you care about and those with whom you have a relationship regardless of what they do.
And, in these trying times, you have a relationship with everyone you come in contact with.
Or, to put it another way: WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.
I hope this has been useful to you.