Columns, Opinion

Let Your Hair Down: Difficult conversations with friends will help curb virus spread

Amid the heightened political polarization that currently envelops our society, communicating with friends who hold different beliefs has never felt more challenging. 

Most of us are desperate to return to any sense of normalcy as soon as possible — especially on college campuses, where socialization is a paramount feature of the experience we were promised.

However, we cannot ignore reality. 

Just last week, the daily average of COVID-19 cases in the United States reached an all-time high, increasing by more than 80 percent from the average two weeks ago. The U.S. is predicted to exceed 438,000 deaths by March 1 if we continue as we currently are, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

It is no surprise the virus means different things for different people. Some students may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and face more severe hurdles due to a myriad of factors: systemic inequity, medical complications, high-risk family members and more. 

Because those who are not personally affected by the virus don’t experience its most direct implications, many of these lucky ones can easily adopt a sense of indifference to the pandemic.

But it is everybody’s responsibility to think about how we should approach our friends, particularly ones we live with, about social responsibility. How do we tell the people we love they are making unsafe decisions?

This obstacle can feel daunting and awkward. Moreover, it can feel like it is not our place at all.

If someone you live with is not respecting COVID-19 regulations, it is no longer solely about them and their individual life. We are living under conditions that require all of us to consider how our own actions affect others because, as cliché as it is, we are all in this together. One person’s decisions can determine another person’s fate. 

Regardless of what actions one person might find appropriate, we must respect everyone’s varying comfort zones. 

Approaching a friend about their personal social decisions is inherently uncomfortable. It involves entangling yourself in the private choices of another, seemingly encroaching on who they can and cannot spend their time with. This can be a highly sensitive subject to broach. 

As tough as it may feel, we need to be okay with having open and honest conversations with loved ones about how we are meeting our shared duty to keep each other safe. Though it is personal, this kind of dialogue represents the broader reality of living under current circumstances. 

The weirdness that accompanies situations like this is yet another feature of the pandemic we must accept and push through. As long as we carry out these talks with understanding and empathy, we can build boundaries that would otherwise be extremely difficult to regulate without open communication. 

It is important not to speak from a place of criticism. The purpose of these talks is to build safer environments and inform our friends, not to judge them and their choices.

The virus holds a unique position in each individual’s life, so we all may relate to it differently. However, people can’t stop acknowledging the world that exists beyond their own bubble for the mere sake of convenience.

Complacency is not an option here, and we must all prepare ourselves to hold difficult conversations.

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