Influencing Mindsets: When to Speak Up About COVID-19 Guidelines

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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mindfulness, adapt, future

Because I have ALS, I need to minimize the risk of getting the coronavirus. So, I’m doing my best to follow the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. And I appreciate the efforts of everyone who’s doing the same. Certainly wearing a mask and gloves, wiping down surfaces, and keeping a 6-foot distance between myself and others has been challenging.

Lately, I’ve noticed that some of us are figuring it out, while others are not doing quite so well.

On the good side

I had a haircut appointment the week before lockdown began. Even back then, I was a little apprehensive about going. But I gave my hairdresser high marks afterward for following special safety measures.

The front door was propped open so I didn’t have to touch the door handle. Her appointment times had been adjusted to allow time for clients to individually enter and leave. And her chair was wiped down between appointments. Thinking back, the only thing missing was that she didn’t wear a mask. But I’m sure that when I finally get to go back again, she’ll have one on. Bravo!

The not-so-good example

Last weekend, late Saturday afternoon, my husband and I were returning from picking up takeout dinner. When we turned onto our street, we noticed a group of people milling about in the middle of the street ahead. We wondered if there had been an emergency.

As we approached, we could see that the group was actually 20 of our neighbors throwing a street party! No one was wearing a mask. Everyone was standing within 2 feet of each other, chatting, laughing, and sipping their drinks. The crowd quickly parted to allow us to pass. Several partiers held their arms and drinks high while loudly cheering “woo-woo!”

My eyes must have been as wide as saucers. I had the urge to roll down my window and tell them off. Maybe even cough in their direction. I wanted to report them, but to whom?

Instead, I reminded myself that we’ve all been under stress living with the pandemic changes. And that occasionally, people reach the breaking point in which their inner child rebels and has a meltdown.

My déjà vu

These are the same behaviors I saw years ago, when I was a hospital wellness director on the front lines of the smoking cessation movement.

At that time, to change the ’80s culture of smoking, we followed basic wellness and behavior-changing principles: Offer carrots not sticks. This includes explaining what is needed and why it’s needed, creating supportive environments, and modeling good behavior. We taught smoking cessation classes, led community coalitions, and helped area businesses draft policies.

Along the way, I met polite smokers who put out their cigarettes when kindly asked to do so. And I met belligerent smokers who lit up cigarettes halfway through my presentation. Did I confront them? No. I ignored them, continuing to speak to those who cared and letting peer pressure and good modeling influence the protesters.

Practice positive modeling 

Today, I believe we are all trying our best to follow the COVID-19 guidelines, both for ourselves and for one another. Grocery stores are creating supportive environments. Emergency workers, our friends and family, and even newscasters are wearing masks. Community volunteers are helping those who are suffering during this crisis.

What if you see someone not following the guidelines? I suggest the following:

  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what their circumstances may be?
  • Navigate your way around the person. If for safety reasons you need to point out what they need to do, be polite and include a thank you. Our smiles are now hidden behind a mask.
  • Follow my tips in “How to Coach the Coach: Make It a Sandwich.”
  • Model the proper behavior yourself, knowing people are more likely to follow what others are doing.
  • Finally, remember, the coronavirus didn’t create inconsiderate people, they were probably that way already. Let it go.

Together, we can survive the COVID-19 crisis and live well while living with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Julie avatar


If I see a person in the store actively coughing and not wearing a mask, I will speak up. I know "shaming" is a pretty abhorrent thing, but I don't want to get sick or die. I am grateful for the respectful people, but the others need to learn this is not just about them, it affects everyone.

Lisa Deegan avatar

Lisa Deegan

Hi Dagmar,

Would love to connect with you. I am working with We bring together pALS, Research, Technology and do a bi-Monthly Webinar. We would love to feature you, and have you on our Webinar to talk to our pALS group. We are just getting started but already after 3 webinars have a following. If you can't speak we have a chat box on our call. Our community is very positive and I found your column and experience perfect for what we are looking for. I hope to hear from you.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Hello Lisa - - I will email you :-) Thank you!

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