Masks.

“I’m not sure I’d like to wear one in the office, they’re kind of uncomfortable.”

This was a quote from a meeting I was in last night. We were discussing what the next normal office experience for employees who voluntarily return.

That ‘uncomfortable’ feeling isn’t the mask, it’s the feeling of growth.

Did early humans complain that shoes were uncomfortable? Because I’m absolutely, positively sure they were. At first.

Every new behavior is.

The topic of masks fascinates me because it’s change on so many levels.

Masks used to mean something was wrong with them

For years, I’d look at the individual with a mask on the airplane suspiciously. I imagined everything from they were in the middle of chemotherapy and immune-compromised to they were ill and carrying unwanted germs on with them to the plane while alleviating their guilt by wearing a mask.

Masks now mean “I care about you”

When I see someone wearing a mask now, I feel a sense of appreciation. The data is still uncleaer about the efficacy of wearing a mask…but what is confirmed is that if you are unwell and even have undetected symptoms of COVID-19, when you wear a mask…you are protecting others.

But for an individualistic culture like America, caring about the community is not something we’ve been taught. Our roots in puritan capitalism run deep and we tend to fend for ourselves. Yet, I know we have it in us to do better.

Masks used to mean someone was a villain

Darth Vader, Jason from Friday the 13th, and bank robbers have conditioned us to think of mask-wearers as having something to hide. Or worse, masks mean someone is scary.

https://visual.ly/community/Infographics/entertainment/20-most-iconic-villain-masks-movie-history

Masks now mean “I’m a superhero”

The truth is, the only way we’ll beat Coronavirus is if everyone wears a mask. As many states relax the sheltering guidance, and as we wait for a vaccine, the exponential rate at which COVID-19 spread can happen again.

In this 7 minute video, Dr. Chris Martenson explains the fundamentals of a virus and how a mask (even a homemade one) can protect you and others. At its core…less virus that reaches your eyes, nose and mouth means a lower dose. Even if you contract COVID-19, you’re getting a smaller ‘dose’ thereby increasing the odds your body’s immune system can fight it.

Change will be the result of expect and respect

Ultimately, change will happen when we ‘expect’ and ‘respect’. A leader I deeply respect and I were speaking about this topic, and she raised these two important pillars necessary for shifting our behaviors: expect and respect.

  • Expect: When masks are expected, we’ll see a shift from “why are you wearing a mask” to “why AREN’T you wearing a mask”. Many states have helped further this by mandating mask use when people leave their homes. Rather than place the burden of choice on the individual, they’ve paved the way and made it clear what is expected.
  • Respect: The other dynamic is a shift in our energy. When we respect those who are protecting us by wearing a mask, we elevate their status. We create a bond based in appreciation and acceptance. We honor them above those who have chosen to put their vanity or comfort above our safety and the safety of others. And, we see the choice to not wear a mask as disrespectful. We don’t need to be belligerent or nasty, but we need to signal that these choices are no longer acceptable.

How a conformist gets comfortable being an outlier

I’m experimenting with being a minority. Wearing a mask when no one else is has become a fascinating social experiment with my own psyche. I’ve never been a rebel and my own search for belonging early in my life taught me to blend in with everyone else.

And, I’m quickly realizing it’s difficult to overcome habits of conforming to the norms.

I’m typically the only one wearing a mask outside. At first, I’d look away or try to hide my discomfort. Cast my eyes down at the runners and walkers out in the early morning hours.

But then I decided to treat this as a social experiment. Could I possibly shift the dyanmics of expect and respect by going eye-to-eye. Head up, contact made through a loud “good morning”, and a sense of acceptance for the powerful choice to care for others by taking the plunge into wearing a mask.

You see, change happens one person at a time.

But, change becomes a movement when others join in.

This is an invitation to join the #maskmovement. Help our American communities shift mindsets.

I can’t fathom there’s any downside at all.

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