So although it’s important we hold each other accountable, especially within our inner circles, this accountability needs to come from a place of togetherness and not condemnation. If you see someone without a mask on, especially in Victoria and more acutely Melbourne, calling them selfish or reprimanding them won’t help the situation. Instead, as change.org executive director Sally Rugg suggested on twitter, why not offer the person a spare if you’ve got it, ask them if they need help acquiring one or just keep a safe distance between them and you.
Besides, without knowing them, you can’t know why their face is bare. Maybe they’re walking back from a run in the area or have a medical condition that prohibits them covering their mouth and nose. I’m sure the last thing someone with chronic breathing problems needs is an onslaught of public shaming.
Moreover, you cannot change a person’s behaviour through confrontation. This will only turn out a fruitless endeavour and create further unrest. It’s more than OK to ask someone to step back 1.5 metres in a queue and be cautious of other people’s closeness to you. But it’s not OK to yell or be aggressive at anyone because they stepped too close.
There’s already a huge amount of anxiety in public spaces and we don’t need to add to that. Instead, you may have to just move slower than normal to make sure social distancing is occurring and be patient with those around you.
It’s a tense and hard time for everyone; a lot of people are struggling for a lot of different reasons. We need to act together, offer kindness and understanding, and be ready to offer help over blame.
Turning on each other will only further add to the hardship we’re all going through. As the mantra from the start of the pandemic goes, we’re all in this together. That means working collectively and not in oppression. And don’t be afraid to offer people a smize (a smile with your eyes) from above your masks when you pass them on the street either.
Marnie Vinall is a Melbourne writer.