No handshake, no hugs, no kisses on both cheeks – in our strange new reality, etiquette plays a valuable role.
While we learn how to handle new physical perils in the outside world, we also suddenly need to gracefully navigate an extremely stressed social climate. Etiquette for the epidemic isn’t superficial; it protects and strengthens our social fabric.
Social Distancing, Social Media
Social media may help to fill the enormous gap left in our lives because of social distancing. But it can only go so far.
Just as before, social media can connect us across geography and time, which is something we can appreciate now more than ever before. But social media can also serve as an ersatz social life. Quantities of friends and numbers of likes can mask the absence of meaningful connection.
Etiquette for the Epidemic: Using Social Media Well
On the plus side, social media gives us the chance to find out how far-away friends and family are coping. It can also connect us with more distant friends – people we see infrequently and aren’t in close contact with. I’ve been moved by the genuine interest that acquaintances have shown. I’ve also been surprised by the superficiality, or even absence, of exchanges with people I’d thought I was closer to.
We can shape a meaningful virtual world by using social media with sincerity. One way is to connect with people on an individual level. Another is to share constructive information. I’m always grateful for something novel to read – some new ideas. Some people have a gift for inspirational or entertaining content.
You’re Not Alone
You’re not the only person experiencing the pandemic, even if social distancing makes you feel like you are. That’s what the word pandemic means – everyone is experiencing it. Everyone else is also experiencing the same isolation, the same concerns, and many of us are going through much worse. Unfortunately, it’s not just about you.
Boredom Is Not in Fashion
Complaining about boredom is out.
Time is a gift, not a burden. Speaking of ways to pass time, to kill time, is in poor taste. The essential workers protecting us would be grateful for the reflective time we have. More to the point, people struggling for their lives are struggling for more time. Time is life itself, and if it’s abundant, we can only be grateful.
Pushiness Is Also Not in Fashion
Maintaining safe social distancing isn’t just about good manners; it’s an essential for public health. For some of us, it’s even a survival skill. We’ve all seen altercations arise from people taking advantage and squeezing in between responsible people waiting 2 meters apart in line. Then the shouting – shouting of course was never in, but now it’s simply unsafe.
Keeping a safe distance from others can be an exhausting exercise in vigilance. We’re trying to stay to one side of the pavement when we do go out. Particularly when someone can’t see us, we take responsibility for maintaining the appropriate distance.
Socializing During the Epidemic
It would be nice if some of our new ways of relating to one another could stick. We’re all missing human contact. To stay socially connected, we can revive some pre-social media customs:
Communicating with Strangers
I was walking the dog. Another woman was walking her dog. As we passed each other across a distance of 3 – 4 meters, we gave a courteous nod. Then, we saw each other again 20 minutes later. We were both disproportionately thrilled.
Face masks hide our smiles so we have to incorporate gestures – a wave to say hello, touching our chest to say thank you. Maybe we’ll make up new gestures along the way.
Reinventing the Neighborhood
We’re also getting to know our neighbors better, calling across from balcony to balcony. No one seems to want to miss an opportunity for socializing.
It’s really nice to shake off a little of our urban cool.
Talking on the Landline
Some of remember a time when there was such a thing as a long distance call. They were really expensive. We counted the moments and enjoyed the voice on the other end as long as we could afford to.
A phone call was an event. We didn’t have any distractions, like a TV on in the background. We focused totally on the other person. We can make conversation matter the same way now.
Analog Communication: Using the Mail
We’re missing physical contact more than anything. It’s nice to get an instant message or an email. But a letter or postcard you old in your hands is a rare treat. Writing them is also a meaningful way of connecting for you.
Virtual Cocktail Party
To these vintage communication standbys, we can add another favorite with a 21st century twist. The other night, all of us in Travel Bloggers Greece had an evening of wine and conversation via Skype. It was strangely touching to see the faces of friends gathered together again.
Etiquette for the Epidemic – How to Communicate with Compassion
Etiquette’s not about making an impression; it’s about showing care for others. Kindness and sincerity are the foundation of good manners.
It’s nothing more than a set of guidelines to help us gracefully through social situations, particularly unfamiliar ones. The epidemic is the definition of an unfamiliar situation, and that makes etiquette indispensable now. It’s essential for nurturing our personal relationships – no matter how casual or how close. But more importantly still, it keeps society intact. We don’t just survive as individuals; we survive as a culture.
It’s comforting to be able to rely on these rules. Just when we need them most though, in a situation of panic or distress, they seem to abandon some of us. All we need to do is treat people as we wish to be treated. If that’s challenging, we can just take our cue from the other person, by responding in kind.
Responding in Kind
When people reach out to inquire about you, trust in their sincerity. No one’s asking you about yourself just to get you to ask how they are. But do ask – and not just because of conventional etiquette. Not showing an interest in others now can communicate an unseemly self-absorption. Good manners are fundamentally an expression of character.
Following up with a reciprocal inquiry is also important for you, for preserving your own humanity. There’s so little most of us can do about the pandemic. But one thing we can do is to take an interest in others. It’s also a relief to take a break from having life just be about you.
Questions vs. Good Wishes
Asking how your friends, neighbors, and family are faring actually does two things. You get the information you need, but you also engage more deeply. Good wishes are nice, but eliciting information demonstrates a more sincere interest – you’re not just hoping they are well, you want to know.
What to Ask During the Epidemic?
Most of us aren’t as concerned about ourselves as much as we are about the others in our lives. Some have friends and family doing essential work that puts them in harm’s way. And most of us have more vulnerable people in our lives – our older parents, or friends and relatives who are in delicate health. Also, many also have family and friends who are separated from them by oceans, continents, and closed borders, or who live in countries that have been hit particularly hard. It’s nice when someone takes an interest in the people we care about.
We can meet distress with compassion. And on the other hand, many of our inquiries will be rewarded with good news, allowing us a moment to experience gratitude.
Compassion and gratitude both are becoming essential survival tools. It’s helpful to seek every opportunity to practice both.
And Whom Do We Ask?
Some of the most meaningful and sincere exchanges I’ve had have been with people I haven’t seen in a very long time. Others have even been with people I don’t know that well. It’s the distance itself that makes them so meaningful, proving the strength of our society in tough times. We can strengthen it further by widening our circle.
There’s nothing obscure or arcane about good manners. Etiquette at heart is an expression of character and compassion. Doing what feels natural and kind is always the right thing.
Wishing you all good health.