Updated: Jun 9
By Emily Jarecki
After more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, our lives will have changed forever. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve lost our jobs. Everyday behaviors we used to do, such as shaking hands or sharing drinks at restaurants, have changed because of the threat of being publicly shamed.
There grew in number unspoken rules that we were all to follow:
There is no coughing or sneezing in public.
Do not shake hands.
It is unacceptable to be seen without a face mask.
The list of habits we’ve acquired over our lifetime is unwritten and insurmountable. When the pandemic hit, these habits underwent an abrupt change which was hard to get used to. While forgetting your mask at home might be an honest mistake, it comes at the price of being shamed by the public for not caring that there is a pandemic and the lives of others. Difficulty breaking or building a habit is not a reason to be publicly shamed.
So what do we do about the spring-breakers and Karens who knowingly put others at risk for COVID-19? Should we shame them for intentionally going against CDC guidelines of wearing a mask and social distancing? Or what about those that got vaccinated but can still spread the virus? It’s hard to forgive someone who’s putting others at risk.
With the pandemic still rampaging, it’s important to keep others healthy. Regardless of a friend or an enemy who isn’t wearing a mask or following CDC guidelines, public shaming is no way to tell them to put on a mask because it likely won’t change their behavior. It might only further ignite a rebellious nature and cause people to become defensive.
Those We Shame
It’s not just the Karens that get shamed. In times of high stress, anyone can get publicly shamed and criticized. Even people who accidentally forgot or lost their masks can be seen as purposely ignoring guidelines. Pub owners trying to keep their business alive are criticized for creating an environment where Covid can spread quickly. Even those who come down with Covid can face shame from their employers and other employees for bringing the virus into the workplace and forcing people into quarantine.
Why do we shame?
People are naturally drawn towards shaming because it’s typically an effective way to gain power over another. It’s easy for a person to start feeling conscious of their behavior and alter it to stop the shaming.
Pandemic shaming makes a person realize that they are going against society in a negative, disruptive way that has the potential to drastically ruin their public reputation. Nobody wants to be embarrassed for being disrespectful or shunned from society, especially for forgetting a mask, hanging out with friends, or shaking hands.
Repercussions of Shaming
Shaming someone during a pandemic has the potential to create massive consequences for an individual. Because of technology, videos or pictures can be posted on the internet extremely fast, which includes not just the grocery store audience that partook in the shaming, but an entire city, state, or country. This can be psychologically traumatic. We try to use public shaming as a way to force someone to change their behaviors, but it has the potential to completely change the way a person sees themselves. It can make the person feel like they are a bad person, worthless, and hated by all.
Public shaming can affect your mental health. It can also affect your future by preventing you from getting into a good school, getting a job, and starting a business. Public shaming can even ruin friendships because nobody wants to be associated with a person that doesn’t care about the lives of others.
The Road Ahead
Before we shame anyone, we should keep the consequences of public shaming in mind, especially amidst the novel Covid-19 vaccine. The country is divided between people wanting the vaccine and people hesitant to get it. Shaming those that don’t want the vaccine for personal reasons should not feel threatened by the public to get it. It is necessary to strive for different and better ways to maneuver these uncertain times.