ActivTrades: Change may be uncomfortable but we must embrace it


Demonstrators wearing masks.

ActivTrades Weekly

By Ricardo Evangelista


Altering habits isn’t easy, there is comfort in routine and change can be painful; we have all experienced, at various points in our lives, the disruption caused by it: the first day at a new school, a relationship break-up, changing jobs, etc. It’s normal to fear change, holding on to what is familiar, even if by doing so we sometimes hold ourselves back from moving on to bigger and better things. Familiarity can generate a false sense of security, so it is important to remain flexible and open minded, particularly when facing new challenges. Often, failing to adapt and evolve results in stagnation and decline.

But if transformation is hard for individuals, it is even harder to manage at group level. Altering long-standing social habits normally requires state sponsored campaigns, often supported by the imposition of penalties to those who refuse to comply. Altering collective behaviour is tricky. I’m old enough to remember the mid-80s, when the use of car seats belts became mandatory in my home country; my parents used to complain about it, saying it was uncomfortable and perhaps even dangerous, increasing the risk of becoming stuck and unable to abandon the vehicle in case of an accident. This may sound ludicrous today, but it took many drivers and passengers a long time to embrace this change and for the use of car seatbelts to become an almost automatic habit.

Recently, I noticed something that reminded me of the seat belt story above: The use, or not, of face masks to minimise the risk of spreading and catching the coronavirus. This topic is becoming increasingly controversial. While many of us embraced the use of masks, when out in public, as a natural habit that will help protect the user as well as everyone else around, others resist this change, arguing it is the result of collective hysteria and that making the use of such protective equipment mandatory infringes on individual freedoms.

Without wanting to get into the politics surrounding this subject, I must point out that scientific advice is overwhelmingly in favour of using face masks, so I hope that, until a vaccine is produced, most of us will become accustomed to wearing a mask when out in public, with the same naturalness with which we fasten the car seat belt before driving.

The coronavirus pandemic is the most momentous historical event since World War II. In a relatively short period of time it forced transformations that affected individuals, businesses and governments. The psychological, cultural and economic impact of these changes has been enormous and it is natural for us all to feel unsettled.

Humans are naturally inclined to resist change, but this is a time for flexibility. We must adapt our behaviour, embrace the challenge by listening to the experts and following government and scientific advice. The reward for the short-term discomfort of changing old habits will be the saving of lives, as well as livelihoods and, perhaps even a greener and more equal world will emerge, in the aftermath of this crisis.


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