Mask or No Mask: Your Choice About Other People’s Choices

by | May 19, 2020

Jill Mueller is a trainer, coach, and learning experience designer dedicated to helping people teams become high performing by being Thoughtfully Fit.

By Jill Mueller

Trips to the grocery store are no longer the leisurely errand that they used to be. Mask? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Grocery list that includes every item needed in order of store location? Check. 

And all of that is before even walking through the sliding door!

Personally, I have made the choice to shop exclusively at stores that have arrows on the ground pointing everyone in the same direction and tape marking six feet spaces so you know how far back to stay in line. Love it. These precautions greatly reduce my anxiety when grocery shopping right now.

This past weekend, I was going up and down the aisles wondering if rice would be in stock (it wasn’t) or if SpaghettiOs would be on the shelf again (they were!). Everyone I saw was wearing a face covering, heeding the arrows, and staying somewhat six feet apart.

And then I got to the soup aisle.

Not everyone follows the arrows

As I was rolling down the aisle, I saw a man coming from the opposite direction. Funny to think three months ago, I wouldn’t have even thought about this. But now, I was on high alert. Did he not see the arrow? Maybe he didn’t see the arrow. I quickly skirt past him, grab some soup and turn into the next aisle.

Wouldn’t you know… there he is going the wrong way. Now my thought process goes into overdrive. Oh, he definitely saw the arrows. He is deliberately defying them. Who does he think he is? As I pass him this time I make eye contact and scowl underneath my mask. I know he can’t see three-quarters of my face, but maybe my eyes got my point across.

I skip the cereal aisle and now for the third time, I am on the opposite side of the aisle with Arrow Defyer. This guy is a moron! Is he doing this intentionally? He doesn’t have a mask on so he must just be trolling everyone. Why is he doing this?

As I started spiraling in anger wondering why he was doing this, I realized that this wasn’t helping. So, I hit the pause button and took a minute to think:

  • What do I need? To get my shopping done and get out of this store quickly. 
  • What will help me get what I need? To accept that I can’t change his behavior.  

Time to act. Stay focused on my shopping and don’t give him another thought.

Acceptance is not approval

It’s possible you are reading this story and see a different perspective than I did for Arrow Defyer: He was just shopping. He wasn’t hurting anyone.

You might think that I didn’t do enough: You should have let management know and had them enforce the rules!

Or maybe you’re thinking: Why did you even go to the grocery store when you can get food delivered? 

I hesitated even sharing this story because I know everyone is going to interpret it differently and not everyone is going to agree with what I chose to do.

But that is in fact my point. 

There’s a lot to think about these days that we never had to before, and the choices will only increase moving forward. Mask or no mask? Go back to the office or stay working remote? Send kids to camp? Go on vacation? Get a haircut? Go out to eat? Sit in a conference room? Go to a movie?

Everyone has a different risk tolerance and belief system that is going to help them make those hard choices.

I have my opinions on what everyone “should” do. I get annoyed when I see people make the wrong choices (Arrow Defyer is hardly the first person who has annoyed me in the last week). And I also know there is absolutely nothing I can do about the other choices people make.

One of the hardest things that Darcy has taught me about being Thoughtfully Fit is the practice of FLEXIBILITY, which is stretching to accept. I can choose to accept others making choices that I disagree with. If I accept that I cannot change them, it does not mean that I approve of their behavior. It simply means that I am not going to waste my brain capacity or energy thinking about it.

When I was first trying to practice FLEXIBILITY, it felt like I was just supposed to not care. It felt like acceptance meant that it wasn’t supposed to bother me. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Arrow Defyer did bother me. But I made the choice to not give him the power to occupy my thoughts. 

That’s the benefit of FLEXIBILITY. Acceptance creates the room for the things you actually can control. In this case, finishing my shopping, washing my hands, and finding calm back at my house (and in my head). I chose to not let Arrow Defyer be a part of my evening.

What can you change?

There’s a lot that you can’t change right now, and people will always make choices that you disagree with. Thankfully, you can change how you deal with those differences. You can choose to accept (not approve) and control what you can do. It takes practice, but our current circumstances are giving us plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Happy and safe shopping!

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