People who wear masks are always stunned at the people who don’t and vice versa. And I’ve heard legitimate arguments on both sides.

An article on Atlantic.com hits the nail on the head in terms of explaining why people don’t wear them. The article basically divides the anti-maskers in this coronavirus pandemic into a couple of groups:

  • No. 1 ⁠— Those people who have a legitimate medical reason not to do so (and those are a teeny tiny percentage)
  • No. 2 ⁠— Those who don’t think masks look cool (again this is a small percentage and it’s mostly men).
  • No. 3 ⁠— Those who don’t like the government telling them how to protect themselves (and that is the biggest percentage).

If we know that the reason that many New Jerseyans don’t want to wear the mask is that they see it as an infringement of their freedom, then why would the government shaming them do anything to alter those peoples behavior? After all, people who don’t like government intervention into their health do not hold the government’s messages in high regard. Shaming them is only likely to make these people give the proverbial middle finger by not wearing masks.

The Atlantic article draws parallels between the AIDS epidemic, when the government was trying to promote the idea of using condoms as a way — if not the most effective way — of stopping the spread of HIV and AIDS. But trying to shame people into wearing condoms didn’t work — and it won’t work for masks either.

When the government portrayed gay men who did not use condoms as irresponsible, low-life villains who spread disease and death, condom use stagnated. But the moment that some empathy was shown as well as some understanding of for the reasons men did not want to use them, we saw a shift.

The government as well as condom manufacturers tried to an approach that took into account the REASONS for non-cooperation. Then, according to the article, condom use began to increase. No grown adult enjoys being told what to do. And for many people, when the government does it, it’s even more offensive. The more you lecture and finger wag, says the article, the more you reinforce the idea that someones choices and liberties are being usurped.

I think the article sums it up best in this one line: "Empathy has its own kind of power." Instead of Gov. Phil Murphy shaming people who don’t wear masks and calling them knuckleheads, or fellow shoppers screaming at the anti-maskers, a softer approach is necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. As the Atlantic piece states, ”Acknowledging what people dislike about a public-health strategy enables a connection with them rather than alienating them further. “

Listen, no one likes wearing a mask. And you have to acknowledge that we are all tired and weary. We are all exhausted from the deluge of information and the constantly changing facts and figures and statistics. You must acknowledge that this is difficult for everyone. But I will try to understand why you think you must wear a mask alone in your car, which does nothing, or while exercising outside if you try to understand why I am uncomfortable with it.

Then, we can look at this as a goal we are all trying to reach together. If we try this approach, eventually, we may be able to create solutions to the problem like comfier masks for people who won’t wear them because they’re uncomfortable. Having them fit well and feel good will go a long way. Having more options, smaller thinner lighter can help people to make the change. Screaming at someone in a grocery store will not.

I promise you this: The more you try to shame an anti-masker, the more he is going to stand his ground and the less likely he is to mask up. And then what have you really accomplished? So ask yourself this: is your goal really to keep your community safer? Or is it just to feel superior to others? And if it’s the former, we are going about it all wrong.

So stop shaming, stop screaming, and stop judging. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the other guy. And most importantly for everyone, stop listening to your friends, or your influencers or Bruce Springsteen. Instead of reading quick tidbits from people on Twitter about the effectiveness of masking, do your own research. And, demand clearer, more consistent messaging from government health officials that can prove (if in fact it’s true) that we will all be better off if everyone masks up.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco. Any opinions expressed are Judi's own.

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