By Pratap Nambiar

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has on several occasions stated “Wear your mask. It is just like getting the vaccine for the virus”.

Yet millions of Americans do just the opposite. As if death itself does not matter any-more. It is what Robert Kegan refers to in his book “Immunity to change” where a medical study showed six out of seven at risk heart patients not making any changes to their personal lifestyle, though they know that this will for sure lead to their death.

It is not a problem of will. According to Kegan ‘the problem is not the inability to close the gap between what we genuinely, even passionately, want and what we are actually able to do”.

What stands in the way of our intent by way of self-limiting behaviours, is our deep commitment to something else that is in direct conflict with our original intent.

In the story of the mask, people have a conflicting commitment to a sense of freedom and independence right now in terms of how they live their life. Wearing the mask kills that spirit that way of being, that they are fully committed to. This sense of commitment is so great that in-spite of knowing that the mask protects and ensures life for the long term, they are not willing to compromise on their need for freedom of choice and independence at this moment. In fact the way they see it, every time they wear the mask they are dying any way.

It is the very same reason that at risk heart patients who have to change their life-style do not do so because when they do it, they feel they are dying a slow death. So why not just live life to the fullest now and enjoy it while possible, and let death come whenever it does in the future. In the words of one of my American friends “It is my risk to take”.

Then there is the other aspect which is the politicization of the mask as epitomised by the actions of the US President. Here is a leader who represents Republican values, making it a symbol of his political campaign thereby making a statement against those opposing him who by the way are the ones who wear masks. Now then as Republicans, people get committed to showing their full support to their leader, even if it kills them in the process. So hundreds of thousands of supporters attended the Tulsa Republican rally without wearing a mask, happy to expose themselves and their family members to the virus. “My risk to take!”

There is yet another cultural commitment that conflicts with the need to look after their individual well-being. The commitment to a selfish agenda where they only represent themselves as individuals without a care for the community. When most Asians wear masks it is not only to protect themselves, but to protect the community as well. In fact my friends in the US have experienced it when someone enters the room wearing a mask, how people look askance at them because they see a sick person. There is no thought given to the fact that this individual is actually wearing a mask in their best interest to protect them!

Quite often these conflicting commitments lead to invalid assumptions that shape self-limiting behaviour. These are assumptions like, I am young nothing can happen to me. Or it is ok not to maintain social distancing on the beach
because the virus does not get active in the outdoors. Some not so young people maintain naively that they are extremely fit and immune to the virus because of their continuing good health. Novak Djokovic and his band of tennis professionals were assuming exactly this, neither wearing a mask nor socially distancing themselves, until several of them got affected by the virus. The best assumption that I heard was “I probably have got it anyway, and am in all probability asymptomatic so who cares?” Obviously there is no care or concern for others.

When death strikes too close to you and the reality of what the virus can do becomes sadly obvious, the conflicting commitment begins to crumble and behaviours change in keeping with a newly aligned objective of keeping one-self and the community safe at the same time. It is time then to take the conflicting foot of the brake and ensure that the foot on the accelerator is now able to smoothly move them forward to their destination.

Pratap Nambiar, Chartered Business Coach (ChBC), is the founder and chairman of Thought Perfect (Singapore), dedicated to coaching CEOs and senior leaders transform themselves for better performance. 

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Thought Perfect offers leadership transformation coaching  for CEOs and senior business leaders to improve their business performance and maximise their potential. The company has coached senior executives of global multinationals based in Singapore as well as in other parts of the world, including India and the United States. If you are looking for an experienced executive  business coach to help your senior management, contact us now to discuss your business objectives and challenges.

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