Pandemic Politeness

In October of 2009, I wrote an article entitled “ Epidemic Etiquette.” At the time, we were bracing ourselves for the onslaught of the H1N1 flu. While concerning enough to change our daily behavior, it did not change our daily schedules. People still went to work, travelers still moved about the country, children still attended school and citizens left their homes to live their lives.

Now, eleven years later, we face an entirely escalated situation. People are quarantined, communities are self-isolating, children are home-schooled and citizens are only allowed out for essential items. Yesterday, while at the grocery store, one poor soul reached his limit and started screaming at the clerk to ring his items faster. The manager quickly came to the rescue as the man verbally spewed threats. The manager was mature enough to know the man was not angry with the clerk, but rather, the state of the world.

It pains me to have to update my epidemic advice, but here we are. As with most situations, there are guidelines for how to be polite during a pandemic.

While venturing out:

  1. Plan Ahead – Since we are only to be out and about for essentials, consider what you need. Create a list. Visit an establishment you frequent so that you know where items are stocked and you can minimize your time with others.
  2. Ask About – If you have an elderly neighbor or someone nearby in need, call to ask if there is anything they would like while you are out. You running their errand minimizes the number of people in public as well as helping someone who may not be as mobile.
  3. Give the Benefit – Understand that others are under stress too. You have no idea if that person is an essential worker coming off a 12-hour shift or the caregiver to someone immunocompromised at home. If someone seems distracted or passively rude, know that they may be dealing with a heavy emotional load and forgive them in advance.
  4. Social Distance – If you must travel by elevator, wait for an empty car. If you are traveling via public transport, sit away from others.
  5. Take Advantage – While traffic is significantly lighter, parking is still at a premium. For those who are able, park farther from the entrance. Consider the additional few paces as extra exercise.
  6. Make Way – Personal space has become upmost in importance. Whether walking outside or down a grocery aisle, allow others to pass around you. Turn so you are passing back to back rather than facing front. If you are with a family member, you will need to pass others single file. Be sure to stand back when waiting in lines.
  7. BYOW – Bring your own wipes to sterilize your cart. While masks are critical for those in the medical profession, they are not as needed for the public. Also, be conscious about NOT touching your face and making sure to wash your hands as soon as you are home.
  8. Be Grateful – Those who are still working daily have significantly more contact with others and therefore are at a greater risk of infection. Be sure to sincerely thank those who are there for us.
While safely home:

  1. Align Your Mind – Instead of thinking that you are “stuck” at home, know that you are infinitely safer while home. A simple shift in perspective can make a world of difference.
  2. Some Sort of Schedule – There are plenty of people online offering model schedules. If those work for you and your family, wonderful. If keeping to a specific schedule is creating more stress, consider a goal-based day with activities to be completed by a pre-set time.
  3. Lower Expectations – We are in a pandemic; students and professionals are learning how to be productive at home. As we settle in, consider the minimum of what must be accomplished and work initially towards this lowered bar.
  4. Worthy Endeavors – Consider what your family values and include these in your daily and/or weekly schedule. For example: learn something new, find the humor to laugh, breathe some fresh air, exercise, eat (somewhat) healthy and rest appropriately.
  5. Build Empathy – With so much additional found time, find ways to connect virtually with others. Speak with relatives from near and far. Scroll through your calendar to look for upcoming birthdays to send real cards and notes. And speaking of notes, this is a wonderful time to write those thank you notes you have put off too long. From unacknowledged gifts to wise advice given years ago, express your appreciation. Remember, appreciation can be expressed to those you do not necessarily know. From Veteran’s homes and assisted living facilities to municipal and medical workers, your cards and notes can help brighten someone else’s day.
  6. Future Forward – While we may not know when, eventually this too shall pass. Your ability to think towards, and plan for, the future will help you withstand today. Imagine life once the pandemic has lifted. From the first thing you will do for pleasure to bigger life-bucket list activities, your ability to shift your perspective will put you in good stead as you face the now.
  7. All About You – In addition to focusing on the future, you should find daily activities that are solely dependent upon you. Choose something that will bring you joy. Reading a book is an obvious one, but meditation, jogging, practicing yoga, baking, knitting, praying and working on a puzzle are all wonderful ways to relax and re-center.
Know that the most polite thing you can do for yourself, your community, your country and the world right now is to stay home and be socially distant so that we can work together to flatten the curve.

Stay healthy and be safe.