Since the State Department has told U.S. citizens not to leave the country and many borders around the world are closed, the opportunity to experience different cultures is slim. You can still pretend that you’re visiting a foreign country even if you live where you’re expected to stay home except for the essentials (food, medical care, alcohol.)
Huh? What am I talking about?
People seem to have a problem understanding the idea of social distancing. It’s a strange concept for us. We’ve been programmed since we were born about the appropriate way to act when around other people
Those rules are called social norms. If you’ve traveled to another part of the world, you’ll quickly learn that norms in other parts of the world are different from what you’re used to. That’s part of the fun of visiting different countries. If you’re only there for a day or two, it’s just a novelty, but when visiting for a week or two, you start to adopt the ways of the people surrounding you.
For example, if you’re in Japan you’ll eventually want to bow to people. Just know you’ll be doing it wrong, but that’s OK. It’s not life or death. But what if it was?
Getting the majority of the United States to exhibit social distancing when in public is the difference between a major health emergency event and a social, medical and economic catastrophe.
So let’s all pretend we’re all in a foreign country where social distancing is the norm. Anyone not obeying will be the one who’s not following the rules. To be polite, we’ll make sure to correct them so that they understand how things are done.
Understand that this is not pretend; it’s very real. These actions will save lives. The problem is that you’ll not get any medal for keeping your distance from other people. You won’t get a certificate telling you that staying away from that person at the supermarket made you 1 of 24 people whose actions saved 500, 5,000 or 50,000 lives.
And when you’re told that you need to stay at home for two weeks to stop the spread of coronavirus, think of it as just a new social norm. Everyone is expected to follow the rules to keep us all safe. You can’t control the people who will ignore the warnings. We can just hope enough of us listen so that we’ll get through this without having to lose a grandparent, parent, spouse, child, relative, friend or co-worker.
Is that really worth standing close to that person or making an extra trip to the store because all of this isn’t serious?
Lastly, I wanted to share what I feel is the best explanation of what we’re up against that I’ve seen.
It’s not a sugar-coated feel-good speech telling us everything will be OK. It says pure and simple what we have to do to keep people from dying. If we do it right, it’ll feel like we overreacted and that’s a good thing. But as she said, “It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world while you’re watching Netflix from your couch.” But you are, you really are. And if no one else tells you, I thank you for adopting new the social norms of our country.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary