Hanna Clements-Hart: Adapting to the Mask

2 min

It's said that old habits die hard. Hanna Clements-Hart might add that it turns out new habits can take hold pretty quickly.

A strange thing happened the other day. I was watching an old episode of "The Office" where Dwight, angry about some prank, leans in close over Jim’s desk. The scene was meant to be funny, but I felt tense and alarmed. Noticing this feeling, I realized I was uncomfortable because the characters were not social distancing.

“He’s too close!” I thought. "He’s not wearing a mask! Why isn’t Jim telling to back off?” Never mind that this was fiction filmed more than 10 years ago. In COVID-19 times, it was menacing behavior.

Over the last month, I have become accustomed to physical distancing with people outside my household. I’ve viewed with alarm (and yes, some judgment) photos of bars in Florida and rallies in Arizona. So when I see others, even fictional characters, behaving in a risky manner, I get upset. Don’t even get me started on Seinfeld’s “close talker.”

I was slower than some to adopt a mask, and even now sometimes I leave the house without it and have to run back to get it. That said, I am habituated enough that my mask has become kind of like a seat belt I feel its absence when I forget to put it on.

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On one hand, I am sad that simple physical closeness has become so fraught with risk. I miss hugging friends, sitting with strangers in a movie theater or gathering around a dinner table. It’s a huge loss.

But on the other hand, I marvel at the adaptability of my mindset to have so dramatically shifted in such a short time. Pre-COVID, I seldom saw people wearing masks. When I did, I looked at them with concern and a little suspicion. Now, I see others wearing masks and I’m grateful. I read their masks as a sign of civic responsibility and care. This once-scary garb has become familiar and positive.

It’s going to be a long while before I can hug my friends or lean in close to share a laugh. But as we continue with this great social experiment, I am cheered by our capacity to adopt, and adapt to, new norms and to change our consciousness.

With a Perspective, this is Hanna Clements-Hart.

Hanna Clements-Hart is an executive coach and lives in San Francisco.