Reclaim Your Face

Last week, the Singapore government lifted the outdoor mask mandate.

It still ‘encourages’ people to wear masks when outside. Nonetheless, as Mothership reports, most Singaporeans still wear masks outdoors. This matches with my own experience. Out on the street, less than one in a hundred people do not wear masks—myself among them.

For those of you who still wish to wear a mask for whatever reason, carry on. This post is not for you.

For everyone else, I have this to say: reclaim your face.

It is a simple exercise. Everywhere the mask mandate does not apply, go unmasked.

In the parks, in the open, on the streets; when you are exercising, strolling, running an errand; wherever and whenever you are out and about, go unmasked.

That is all you have to do.

Go about your life as before. Treat everyone else around you the same way as you did before. Simply go outdoors unmasked.

Obviously this exercise does not apply to any place where the mandate is still in force. But otherwise, go unmasked.

Breathe in the fresh air. Feel the wind on your face. Remember what life was like before Covid.

Do not think yourself superior to others. Do not allow others to pressure you into putting the mask back on. Do not laugh at others for continuing to wear the mask. Do not allow mockery, fear or anger to sway you into putting it back on. Do not impose this on others, nor allow others to do the same to you.

Exercise your wisdom and your judgment based on your risk tolerance and on the data.

Free Person Holding Blue Face Mask Stock Photo

Overcoming Kiasi

Perhaps you still have fears about your safety. There is no need to be afraid.

The world has known for almost a year that the risk of outdoor transmission of Covid is less than 1%, and may even be 0.1%. Ireland’s experience agrees with this data. The Omicron variant behaves no differently from previous variants in an outdoor setting.

There is no evidence of casual transmission of Covid. Simply walking past an infected person will not be enough to catch the virus. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight kills the virus. Fresh air disperses the virus. And you most certainly can’t catch the virus if you’re the only person around you.

Outdoor transmissions occur during prolonged close contact with an infected person, such as a conversation or while dining together. Therefore, simply by keeping your distance from others, you can reduce your risk of catching the virus to a minimal level while your are outdoors—even if you are unmasked.

No matter how much information you read, how many white papers you study, perhaps you are still afraid. For the past two years, case numbers, deaths, and Covid complications have dominated the headlines. Fear is a powerful emotion, and for most people, emotion trumps logic. When you’re outside, you may feel anxious when you’re not wearing a mask, and it goes away only when you put it on.

Avoiding fear is instinctive. But the more you are afraid of something, the more you must do it.

The seed of fear lies deep in your heart. Putting on a mask does not address it. It merely covers it up. It takes away the trigger—an exposed face—but not the cause—fear of catching the virus and experiencing symptoms. To be free of fear, you must uproot the seed.

A cornerstone of Singapore culture is kiasi-ism: fear of death. This manifests as an extreme obsession with safety, with doing things ‘the right way’ with ‘following the rules’, to avoid death, disease, and punishment. While caution is a virtue, taking it to the extreme keeps you paralyzed.

Do you want to be afraid of the unmasked people around you? Do you want to feel anxious every time you feel the sun on your face or the wind in your hair? Do you want to keep spending time, energy and money on masks in places where they are not required?

Do you want to live in fear forever?

The answer to fear is faith. It is trust, confidence, reliance. In this context, it means trust in the physical laws governing the transmission of the virus. Wherever the virus cannot spread, wherever there is no one around you, you are not at risk. No matter how you or others feel about it, this will always remain true.

Take off your mask and step out in faith, exercising good judgment based on sound data. That is all you have to do.

Other people may just be anxious. They exist in a state of constant low-level anxiety, bubbling away beneath the surface, but when they experience a trigger, they explode into outright derangement.

Anxiety is comforting. It is a constant reminder that the world is dangerous and unpredictable. By sticking to The Rules, the world feels predictable, and therefore it feels safer—regardless of whether those feelings correspond with reality. The Rules, whether laid down by the law or mere superstition, become an anchor in a crazy world. Anxiety is an ego defense mechanism to keep the person clinging ever more tightly to the Rules, to chase that illusion of safety. The greater the deviation from the anchor, the more powerful the emotions, inciting the person to return to the anchor. Even when the situation changes, people mired in anxiety will find it extremely difficult to let go.

The response to anxiety is decisiveness. It is boldness, confidence, assertiveness. It is the conscious decision to stop all thoughts of potentially disastrous futures by choosing the steps to create a better future.

If you are still anxious about people not wearing masks outdoors, this is not a better future. You are still trapped in anxiety. A better future here means being able to live in emotional freedom, in peace and happiness, without endlessly worrying about whether you will catch the virus.

To overcome anxiety, you must make a choice. When you are at home, take off your mask. Put on a table. Leave it there. Make a choice to walk outside in the open without your mask. Then walk outside without your mask.

You don’t have to stay outdoors for long. Just head outside and feel the open air.

Keep repeating this exercise, day after day after day. Find what you are comfortable with, then steadily push back against those limits. You may only be comfortable being alone without a mask. Start with this. Then commit yourself to going to public areas without a mask. Then interacting with others. And so on and so forth, steadily stepping outside your comfort zone with every iteration.

This may cause powerful emotions to well up. After two years of living a masked life, it is natural for your psyche to cling to what you were used to.

Let these emotions go. Breathe. Slow, deep, calm. Use the four-count breath and bring your heart rate down, then carry on.

Fear and anxiety stems from within. You cannot reasonably expect the whole world to cater to your fear and anxiety. It imposes limitations on everyone—while keeping yourself limited as well. Far better to free yourself from the stranglehold of kiasi-ism, and return to the person you once were.

Saying No

You will likely encounter people who will demand that you continue to wear masks wherever they are not required. Some people live in a constant state of anxiety. Others live in perpetual fear of catching a virus with a mortality rate of 0.1%. Too many people are petty tyrants who savor the power that comes from demanding others to obey their whims. The response to all of them is the same:

No.

That is all you have to say. The word ‘no’ is a complete sentence. Anyone who does not respect your no is someone who does not respect you, and so is not worthy of further expenditure of time and energy.

Here is an actual conversation I had:

“Put on your mask.”

“We are outside. There is no requirement to.”

“Just wear your mask.”

“No.”

“Wear your mask. It protects you!”

“No.”

“Why are you holding it in your hand? Wear your mask.”

“No.”

“Everyone is doing it. Just wear your mask!”

“No.”

No matter how much they fume and shriek and threaten, hold firm and say no.

No matter how afraid you may feel, hold firm and say no.

Do not explain yourself to those whose minds are already made up, especially if they have already decided that you are unworthy of their respect. They are not looking for information that could change their minds, only ammunition to change yours. Do not get swept up in the heat of the moment. Do not try to prove you are right to someone who already thinks they are right. Do not say anything else. Simply say ‘no’ and move on.

People who confront others for not wearing masks outdoors have their issues. They are as human as you are, but it is not your job to treat them, to condemn them, to dominate them. Just leave them where they are and live your life.

Saying no can be extremely difficult for those who have not learned how to be assertive. This is a major stumbling in a Confucian society like society, which prizes conformity in the name of social harmony. There is always the psychological pressure to fit in, to conform to just go along and get along.

Pressure is not truth.

Over the past two years, nothing significant has changed. The virus has not changed to become more transmissible outdoors. Masks have not changed to become less effective outdoors. The sun and the air have not changed. The laws governing viral transmission have not changed. We have known all this since 2021, and since then none of these critical factors have changed. The only thing that has changed is that the government has finally signaled that it has caught up with the data.

It doesn’t matter what others say. All the pressure and all the disapproval and all the ostracism in the world will not change anything about reality. To be free from fear, you must live by faith, and to live by faith you must be grounded in truth. And the truth is simple:

Outdoor transmission risk is minimal.

You are not obliged to please others. You are not required to deny the truth to please someone else, be he a stranger or a family member. Gaining the approval of others—or, more precisely, the non-disapproval of others—is temporary. Every denial of what you know is true is a self-inflicted wound, and that cuts deeper and longer than anything anyone can say about you or do to you.

Most people who live in a communal society are programmed to fear societal disapproval, and only secondarily to seek societal acceptance—if at all. They are also programmed to condemn those who stray from the norms, and only secondarily to uplift those who uphold them—if at all.

Look around you. Do you see people celebrating each other for wearing a mask? For respecting social distancing? For staying at home when they feel unwell? No.

This is the reward you get for compliance: someone does not disapprove of you. That’s all. There isn’t even a dopamine hit to reinforce it. All you get is avoiding the emotional pain of condemnation—for now.

When you do see official approval of something, it is because the authorities are trying to instill a new norm. Once it has become a norm, the approvals and the celebrations end.

Do you still see children celebrated as superheroes when their parents take them to get the jab?

Condemnation, on the other hand, lasts longer and hits harder. Cancel culture is the new culture. It hits individuals, organisations and now nation-states alike. It flows from people, institutions and governments. It is the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, the one they are most used to employing.

And it will not work on those who stop caring about the non-disapproval of the mob.

What is acceptable and what is not keeps changing. You will never be able to keep up with ever-changing norms while keeping your sanity. You were never meant to.

Live by truth. You will be far more grounded, peaceful and sane that way.

The Old Normal, The New You

The new normal is a normal of fear and anxiety. It is a normal where smiles are hidden, where the sun is shunned, where the wind is unknown. It is a normal where kiasi is the norm.

Do you wish to live here?

Such an atmosphere cannot possibly lead to long-term psychological health. We must find a way to the pre-pandemic normal, where people were not afraid to go out, live under the sun, and exercise their own judgment.

It begins with you.

Return to how things used to be. Reprogram your heart and mind. Renormalize seeing the faces of others.

Reclaim your face.

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Reclaim Your Face

One thought on “Reclaim Your Face

  1. I think your thoughts on the subject of masks removal nails it. Seems to me that #ReclaimYourFace would be a good meme to encourage people to reprogram their thinking back to normality.

    Thanks.

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