Let me start by asking a very simple question: “What do you think is a virus?”
Let me help you a bit. A virus is an ‘infective’ agent that is ‘too small’ to be seen by light microscopy and multiplies only within living cells of a host.
Coronavirus disease is caused by one of the types of coronaviruses. So, yes it is a virus. What I have been seeing lately is that people are not only getting infected with corona-virus but also a virus of illogical beliefs and unscientific ideas. It is infectious, no doubt. It passes from one person to another and then throughout communities. It is so small that you cannot look at a person and say he/she is suffering from this virus. Their qualifications and living standards might trick you into believing that they are sane people when actually they are very dumb.
I see many people not wearing masks. I see people not following social distancing. And I also know many people who are travelling as if there never was any COVID-19 pandemic. Do I feel angry at them? Of course I do. I get very frustrated. But more than frustration I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry because they are suffering from such a deadly virus of stupid beliefs and they do not even know about it. What’s even more saddening is that so many of them are qualified, smart and good people. But the pandemic has brought about their true colors. The stoics were wise enough to know how such a kind of virus is so deadly and lethal. Marcus Aurelius, a famous stoic around 2,000 years ago said very aptly during the Antonine Plague, “An infected mind is a far more dangerous pestilence than any plague. One only threatens your life; the other destroys your character.” I do not mean to sound judgemental and rude but I am getting a very fine idea about people’s characters these days.
Research has shown that wearing masks actually reduces the spread of virus to a greater extent. Yet people do not do it. Why is it that people do not want to wear masks? Why are they so hesitant and arrogant enough to put their and other people’s lives in danger by not wearing masks? As it turns out there are many reasons to it.
People do not like it whenever they are told what to do. It is simply a human psychology. So, when they are asked to wear face masks they start believing their freedom has been snatched away from them and so they act out and do the opposite. “People value their freedoms. They may become distressed or indignant or morally outraged when people are trying to encroach on their freedoms.” said Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist at University British Columbia and an author of a book “The Psychology of Pandemics”.
Everyone is exposed to different kind of information and the kind of information they have always been exposed to determine their ability to perceive anything. In this case, everyone’s risk perception towards COVID-19 varies a lot. And it decides if people are going to wear masks or not. Also, a direct experience with the virus will also shape your ability to wear a mask. People who had/have contracted the virus and suffered because of it will be much more careful than the ones who didn’t get an infection.
It is also common among people to believe that wearing masks make them look weak in front of others. So to compensate for that people do not wear masks at all. They do not want others to think of them as ‘scared beings’.
It is not easy to change human psychology especially during these uncertain and difficult times. A belief about anything cannot be changed in a moment. So, if people are infected with close-mindedness, they are impervious to reason and scientific evidences then the job becomes really hard.
We still need to try. As I said, the job is not easy but we have to try. We should and we must. Telling people blatantly to wear masks might not be the best way to make them wear one. Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard wrote an article on males who wouldn’t wear masks with a marked lack of shaming. After that many men got in touch with her and opened their minds to listen to her views. We can try changing people’s beliefs about things if we show some empathy towards them. Also, there is a need to make things less confusing- leaders, famous and successful people should set up good examples. If these people are not going to wear masks themselves and follow social distancing then it will definitely get very confusing for others to figure out what should be done.