Mr. Rogers would not have been pleased by the behavior of some neighbors during the COVID-19 lockdown. In difficult times like these, experts say it’s better to stay cool than become hotheaded. Alienating your neighbors now may have negative repercussions down the road.
“This is a time for more empathy, more understanding that everyone is stressed out and probably not at their best,” said Arthur L. Caplan, founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City. “None of us have experience living through a situation like this one. We are all scared. As cliched as it might sound, we really are in this together.”
Caplan told CNN that we have two obligations right now: protect ourselves and our communities and reduce the burden on the healthcare system. But he reminded us that we only have control over our own actions and should not judge others.
Other experts agreed that perhaps neighbors who don’t follow the rules are stressed out, can’t afford masks or gloves, or have forgotten to use them. Rather than calling out a neighbor and causing an embarrassing scene, couch your directives in a way that’s not threatening or accusatory, said Stuart Finder, director for Healthcare Ethics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“Instead of, ‘You idiot,’ you might try to say something like, ‘I always try to stay 6 feet from everyone when I’m out and about,’ or ‘Excuse me, would it be OK if you backed up a bit? I’m just making sure we are all safe,'” he told CNN.
Finder said he preferred to use the phrase “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” since it doesn’t involve the social aspect of your relationship with neighbors.
However, according to The New York Times, you have the right to speak up if your health is at risk by the actions of another person.
“We have to be very forward with making sure that we communicate with the individual,” said Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert. She added that you should address the offender frankly and honestly with respect, not aggression.
Swann told CNN that one of the things you want to remember is that you don’t want to alienate someone you may need in the future.
“One of the things we have to think about is the fact these are our neighbors, that we live near them, and we may run into them again,” she says. “Unless you are talking about something so bad it’s just plain crazy, you have to be mindful of the relational issue that exists when we approach the people who live next door.”
As far as calling the police on your neighbors for what you perceive to be infractions, think twice, said experts. According to CNN, New York City received over 14,000 calls about distancing violations since March.
“If there’s a single person in a park, and there’s nobody else there, I would hesitate to say we should be policing each other’s behavior,” Aziza Ahmed, a law professor at Northeastern University told CNN, adding that calling the police restricts their ability to respond to more urgent situations.
Many municipalities have set up non-emergency police lines for citizens to use if they see something that makes them uncomfortable, according to the Times.
Swann said: “It’s important for the well-being of our community to follow those guidelines. There’s a difference between being a nosy Gladys from ‘Bewitched’ and actually doing your due diligence as a citizen.”
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