There’s nothing wrong with mentally preparing for how you might respond in the event that someone says something about your mask. In fact, practice is probably a good thing if your social skills are a little rusty since the pandemic.
“We all are tempted to react and stand our ground, but it can be a futile exercise leading to untoward outcomes,” said Jagdish Khubchandania professor of public health at New Mexico State University.
Your “script” doesn’t have to be too complicated; a simple “thanks, but I feel more comfortable this way” works fine here, said Ashley Virtue, the external relations director at the National Conflict Resolution Center.
“In our workshops, we always talk about how, when it comes to communication, we need to train our brain to respond calmly whenever we are confronted. Otherwise we will naturally fall into ‘fight, flight or freeze,’” Virtue added.
Practicing out loud what you might say if someone comes up to you is an incredibly useful way to train your brain so you’re not unnerved by such an encounter, Virtue said.
If someone is harassing, yelling or getting physical, prioritize your physical safety.
If someone becomes threatening or the conversation is getting tense, prioritize your safety and walk away, Stone said.
“In a strong, firm voice, you can say, ‘please leave me alone’ or ‘don’t get closer to me,’ phrases that are direct and assertive but also about yourself and your safety rather than insulting the other person,” she said.
If you see someone being harassed, Vox has a great guide on how to help de-escalate the situation as a bystander. If it’s safe to do so, one of the easiest ways to help is to document what’s happening with your phone, whether it’s through audio or video. Or you could pretend to be friends with the person being harassed and pull them away from the situation by saying, “Hey, there you are! We’re late for our dinner reservations ― we better get going.”
If you’d like to feel more empowered personally, Stone recommends this guide from Defend Yourself in Washington, D.C., on how to choose a self-defense class that best suits you.
“It’s an empowering guide, not victim-blaming, and it will help you learn verbal skills, not just kicking and punching,” she said.
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