My guess is that if we surveyed everyone in Houston today, about how faithful they are to wearing a mask, and social distancing in public, the results might not match our experience. Just like the results of driving surveys that ask drivers whether they are better than the average driver. Apparently 70+% of us believe that we are better than the average driver. That certainly doesn’t line up with my experience on the road in this town.
The same thing is happening out there with masks and social distancing. This should be no surprise to anyone. Not because there is resistance to the concept, or disbelief that this will have any impact — although there is some of that going on, to be sure. No, it’s just a well known fact of life that it’s hard to make changes.
When’s the last time you tried to take on a new habit? What happened? Think of what happens every year in January with diets, gym memberships, etc. And these are habits that would have a tangible, positive impact on us personally. Habits need reminders, repetition, incentives and community support to stick long enough for your brain to rewire itself. Some researchers suggest it takes 15 days to create a new habit, others suggest over 250 days. Do we have that much time?
Right now, all I have to imprint this new habit is a “recommendation” to wear a mask in public. This will offer protection to others in case I have the virus and am asymptomatic. This would be even better if everyone around me would do the same. Sign me up! I’m on board, but I’m going to have a hard time sticking to this. I know already.
My brain is not wired for this yet.
I’m sure I’m going to dash off to the store and forget the mask — I forget my reusable grocery bags all the time. I’m going to go out for a walk with a friend and forget the mask — I sometimes forget my key. I’m most definitely going to show up at church without a mask — I can never remember to bring my name tag. I’m a fan of this program, but I’m a very imperfect human being.
Thankfully, we don’t have a culture of publicly shaming people for not adhering to social norms — but that might help me remember right now. I wouldn’t dare violate a “recommendation” when I lived in Germany. The consequences could be mortifying. I love my German friends, but you know what I’m talking about here!
Thankfully, we err on the side of personal choice rather than government mandates and punishment — but that might also be quite useful to fixing this habit with me right now. I wouldn’t dare break a rule that might result in a police citation when I lived in England. It would just be too embarrassing; I would feel like such a fool.
Thankfully, we don’t plaster our public spaces with public service announcements and constant reminders on loud speakers — and that might also help me get it right now. I wouldn’t dare be that person seen doing the wrong thing when I lived in Singapore. It would make me feel so anti-social and selfish.
I don’t know what resources we have available to us in a more individualistic, wild-west culture that will help us “get with the program”. We have a pretty poor track record when it comes to disciplining ourselves for the benefit of our own person, let alone the greater good.
We need a campaign along the lines of the “Don’t Mess with Texas” slogans that were effective at reducing road litter in the 1980s. The success was attributed to the fact that it appealed to the pick-up driving, gun-toting, tough guy mentality of those who were the worst culprits. It worked. Got any ideas for a “Wear Your Mask” campaign for our state?
In the meantime, I’m trying … we’re all trying at our house to “get with the program”. Feel free to call me out, if you see me maskless (except when I’m exercising)!