As the story begins, a woman goes to visit her grandmother. She is stressed and frustrated by the way that her life has been going— in a way that many can relate. No sooner is one problem dealt with than another one rises in its place.
The woman tells her grandmother that she’s reaching the end of her rope and doesn’t know how she can go on.
Without a word, the grandmother goes to her kitchen, fills three pots with water, and puts the pots on the stove to boil. Once the water is bubbling away, the grandmother puts a few carrots in one pot, several eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third.
After about twenty minutes or so, the grandmother turns off the heat and puts the contents of each pot in a bowl.
She then asks her granddaughter what she sees.
The answer seems obvious. “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the granddaughter replies.
The grandmother then tells her granddaughter to feel the softened, boiled carrots, to crack the hard-boiled egg and look at it, and to take a sip of the coffee.
Having done so, the granddaughter asks what it all means. The story continues:
“Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity — boiling water — but each reacted differently.
“The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
“The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.”
The question for the granddaughter — and for the reader as well — is which one represents how you respond to adversity. Are you the egg? The carrots? Or the coffee?
“Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
“Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?
“Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor of your life. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate to another level?”
Of course, the question is posed not just as a way to examine how you respond to adversity now, but in order to learn how to adapt in the future.
We are not permanently carrots or eggs or coffee. Perhaps you have responded as an egg before. Perhaps you’re currently feeling a bit carrot-y. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a change.
We are two months into life in the age of COVID-19 and it’s getting more complicated. Right as many of us were getting used to staying distanced, staying home, and staying in, some states and areas are relaxing restrictions. It isn’t life as it used to be, and it’s inconsistent across the nation. As we all try to figure out what relaxing measures means and what we are comfortable with, we’ve also embraced full on what life via video chat and living six feet apart can be like. Like normal humans, we all have questions, concerns, pet peeves, opinions and of course mute buttons that malfunction.
Before we dive into Etiquette in the Age of COVID-19 we would like to start by saying:
The threat of the novel coronavirus is still present. Until we have a vaccine or until we’ve gotten a handle on this virus’ impact on us, we are going to see requests, and requirements to physically distance ourselves and use personal protective measures like masks and hand washing regularly. It has changed our social behavior and it will continue to change our social behavior as communities find ways to interact safely. These new social measures can feel incredibly awkward and at times impolite, but you are not alone in feeling that way about them. Everyone is learning and figuring this out as we go.
Safety is the guideline right now and measures that we take to protect ourselves and others are right in line with the Emily Post principles of etiquette: consideration, respect, and honesty.
To find more information about the virus, it’s spread and what precautions and measures to take please visit:
As well as your state or local department of health.
When we think about what advice to give, we think first about safety and then about how to be kind and considerate and respectful when trying to be safe. Safety comes before etiquette. This doesn’t mean we toss consideration, respect, and honesty out the window. Far from it, we’ve seen how doing so can lead to tragically bad and completely unnecessary things happening. What it means is that how we interact and what is deemed “polite” or “acceptable” behavior will change during this time. Let’s look at some of the basics to consider here and for specific topics see these articles:
Zoom/Video Call Etiquette for Socializing (coming soon)
Zoom/Video Call Etiquette for Work (coming soon)
Navigating Hanging Out Together Apart (coming soon)
We are all familiar with the term “social distancing” by now. And many are encouraging the use of the phrase “physical distancing” instead which helps people to imagine a less isolated solution. Our goal for physical distancing is that when out and about in public or when socializing with those we don’t live with, we keep ourselves – or our family group – at least 6 feet away from others when possible.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. We’ve all navigated a tight aisle at a store, an elevator or stairwell, or a friend leaning in too closely despite feeling awkward. But what is the right thing to do?
We get asked, more than anything else through our podcast and media interviews, how do you speak up when something is wrong, or bothering you? It’s not an easy thing to do. How you do it makes a huge difference to how well it’s received, but it’s not a magic key. You can never predict someone else’s reaction, especially that of a stranger. So our first piece of advice is and always will be to seek the help of someone in charge if the scenario provides such a person. A manager, usher, flight attendant, host, or whomever is in charge, can have the authority to help you and can also ensure that you aren’t dealing with someone alone. That being said, you don’t do this as a way to punish someone else, it’s to make sure a concern is raised, or that help or safety can be achieved.
If someone at a store hasn’t given you enough space to pass or reach the item you’d like, then a friendly “Mind giving me just a little more space so I can pass [or grab that item] safely?” You want to have an upbeat tone to your delivery, no edge whatsoever (think that person you know who is always upbeat, or sounds cheerful and if no one comes to mind think: how would Glinda the Good Witch, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, the CW’s Superman say it?). If the person scoffs at you, you can either pass anyway keeping as much distance as possible, wait until they move farther away, or go get something else and come back later.
Other phrases that are being heard and used when out and about to manage distancing:
Excuse me Sir, the line starts back there, everyone’s just distanced.
(while stepping back) Sorry I’m trying to keep 6 feet away.
Excuse me, I was next.
I’ll wait and catch the next elevator.
After you, please. (said genuinely)
Do you mind giving us just a little bit more space please, (hopefully followed by a: thank you so much)
A little space please.
Flow of Traffic
While following the guidance of the arrows and directions through stores is always important, it’s not worth getting into an altercation over. Either pass, doing what you can keep your distance, or go back the other way if the aisle isn’t crowded. Don’t make a stand when there are other safe options.
Public Outdoor Spaces
When it comes to public outdoor spaces it’s important to respect any distancing guides that have been put in place whether it’s marked areas to lounge or workout in, or directions for flow of traffic. Remember that even though you’re spaced apart from others, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze as well as not coughing, sneezing, singing, or yelling in the direction of others is helpful.
When trying to create physical distance on sidewalks, recreational paths and trails, you’re still trying to aim for six feet (about two adult arm lengths) apart. It’s really thoughtful if you’re a group or family out together to consider dropping to single file when passing others to help make room.
If it’s easy for you to be the person to step off the path or into the street (because you aren’t, using a walking or mobility aid, managing a frisky dog, balancing a toddler and a baby carriage or are on foot rather than wheels) to create space by all means make the move and do so early so that the other person doesn’t even have to guess at it.
Greetings continue to feel lacking during this strange time. Despite wonderfully bright and cheery waves, mini dances, hops, and skips when we meet, we miss hugs and solid handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps. Greetings that involve touching are still not recommended at this time, so perfect your waves (you know your “professional wave”, your “zoom-meeting wave”, your “I-love-you-Grandma wave”, your “I-haven’t-seen-you-and-I’m-trying-so-hard-not-to-hug-you wave”) and use your tone of voice to match the occasion.
While masks are causing a lot of divisiveness, when combined with physical distancing wearing a mask in public can greatly reduce the risk of spread. Wearing masks may be around for a while so it’s best to try and get used to what it’s like to interact with them on. Since most people are wearing cotton or medical masks and few have clear plastic ones allowing their full face to be seen we are more often than not without many facial cues.
Smiling (anyway), and using your eyes (cue acting skills from every medical show ever for inspiration) and hands to gesture will be the way to connect while wearing masks.
Masks unfortunately also muffle the sound of our voice and so it’s important to get comfortable speaking up, especially when in a noisy store or on a loud street. While you don’t want to shout to the point of sounding unnatural or making the listener uncomfortable, you do need to literally speak up to be heard. If you don’t, often the other person will lean in to hear you, and then you end up stepping back to recreate some space. It’s a odd dance but it happens often.
As we move into figuring out dining indoors and patio dining scenarios be prepared to see people storing their masks in a paper bag or envelope while eating. Some places may place plastic shields between tables or even at tables depending on the restaurant and local requirements.
Wearing masks outdoors is not a bad idea if you’re passing frequently while out on rec paths and trails or in the park or on the sidewalks of your neighborhood. Many choose to “mask when they pass” and let their mask down while on long stretches without others or when there’s more than enough room to pass without any worry. (According to this article in the New York Times, you’re more likely to encounter an issue for yourself if you have prolonged time indoors without masks on than if you pass someone outdoors without a mask on.)
If you’re uncomfortable when you encounter someone without a mask on resist the urge to glare or tsk at them. Do what you can to keep yourself physically distanced and avoid interacting instead. Remember you can only control yourself as best you can. There will be times when it doesn’t go perfectly and even though that can cause stress and anxiety, which often lead to rudeness, arming ourselves with kindness and avoiding judgement of others is good etiquette.
Contact tracing – tracing the virus’ spread through individuals who have tested positive or been around those who tested positive for COVID-19 – is happening at different rates throughout the country, but early indications show that contact tracing by businesses and through events that we attend may become commonplace. Many places already use your phone number or email address to contact you about tickets or a reservation or even a purchase so it’s not unfamiliar. But to have it be connected to our health when visiting a restaurant can feel very different. While we don’t know yet exactly how contact tracing will impact our personal social gatherings (birthday parties, showers, weddings…) or our public socializing (bars, sports, groups, restaurants…) we are considering the possibility that in the future a host’s to-do list list, or advice for making a restaurant reservation for a work lunch might involve contact info for potential contact tracing follow ups.
We cannot emphasize this enough right now. These are extraordinary times and there are so many ways this virus is impacting all of us. Especially when it comes to how we are mentally handling the longevity of this pandemic. You don’t know what is affecting someone’s life making the current threat even worse (financially, emotionally, physically). It’s important to respect people where they are at, and not blow off their concerns or drive fear where it doesn’t need to be.
Many of us are so fortunate to have so many ways to connect to help get us through this crisis together, but loneliness and anxiety are still huge concerns. Reaching out to one another. Being patient and kind with each other. Listening to one another. Respecting one another. Helping those in need. These are the kinds of attitudes and actions that will carry us through. They often cost us nothing, and yet they can make an impactful difference.
Last week we wrote about an observation from some physician leaders that, paradoxically, physician burnout seemed to have waned a bit during the COVID crisis. They felt that, as clinicians rallied to provide care for patients during the pandemic, many found new purpose in the work, despite great challenges. Bureaucratic hurdles yielded to the need to make critical decisions quickly, as did regulatory barriers to telemedicine.
The piece sparked a number of doctors, most from regions now experiencing surges, to share their alternative viewpoints with us.
One employed physician wrote that, across specialties, he and his colleagues are angry. They don’t feel protected, either financially, or even for their own physical safety.
A nurse practitioner working long shifts in an emergency department overloaded with COVID patients wrote, “In April, I would have never believed that we would be scrounging for PPE at the end of July. How could this happen?” And a nephrologist redeployed to a COVID ICU shared: “With the surge in New York, it felt like the entire country was behind their doctors and nurses. I drive home past restaurants and stores filled with people refusing to wear masks. It’s so demoralizing.”
Several expressed that their employers, both health systems and payers, are “counting on our goodwill that we’ll just keep showing up.” But once the crisis passes, there may be “drastic and irrational physician revolts. Someone should be watching for it.”
These comments reveal a marked difference in physician sentiment in different parts of the country, based both on the severity of the pandemic, and the nature of the local response. Regardless, we’d agree that the clinical workforce, both doctors and nurses, is working through a period of unprecedented stress, and for some, emotional trauma. Ensuring their stability and safety must be a top priority for every health system and medical group.