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Should you confront friends or relatives who flout COVID-19 rules? Conflict counsellor weighs in
VANCOUVER -- When friends or family members are flouting public health advice in the midst of a pandemic, is it better to speak up or bite your tongue?
It's a dilemma many Canadians have faced since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, which has dramatically impacted daily life across the country for months.
Knowing that certain people have continued to enjoy their social lives almost as if nothing has changed can trigger jealousy and frustration, particularly among those who are doing their best to deny themselves for the greater good.
"I'm seeing it happen a lot," said Claire Sutton, a conflict resolution counsellor in Vancouver. "If you don't say anything, it's going to eat away at you, and if you react and shame them, you may lose them forever."
And even now that the province is beginning to reopen businesses and allow more social interactions, there are still going to be people pushing the limits and going far beyond the "small and consistent" social bubbles recommended by health officials.
Sutton said it's perfectly normal to express your concerns to friends or relatives, but that it should come from a place of love, not anger. Her advice to people considering a confrontation is to leave judgments aside, and focus the conversation on their own personal boundaries instead.
It doesn't hurt to begin by letting the person know you care about them, she added, and to follow the old counselling chestnut about sticking to "I" statements.
She suggested saying something to the effect of: "You know I love you, sis, but I'm uncomfortable seeing you disregard the COVID-19 restrictions, and I may not be able to be around you if you're doing this. It's important to me to listen to the scientists and abide by the rules."
"You're letting them know what they're doing is not OK for you, so you're setting your boundaries clearly," Sutton said. "You're educating them a little bit without criticizing them, without shaming them, without driving a wedge between the two of you."
The situation can seem more dire when dealing with older relatives, including parents, who seem to have no time for personal precautions even though they're in an age category that puts them more at risk of serious complications from catching the virus.
But Sutton said at the end of the day, there's no way to force people to do the right thing.
"All you can do is basically state your case and abide by the rules and say, 'Well, I'm not going to visit you,'" she told CTV News. "You really can't make anyone do what you want them to do. You just can't."
B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has also strongly urged people not to rush to judgement when they see others seeming to bend or break the rules. Sutton said that's smart, particularly given how complicated the situation is and how much official advice has changed over time.
"It's harder for many of the elderly to learn the new rules, (or at least) to learn all of them," Sutton said. "So show a little more compassion and understanding."
When it comes to roommates or family members who live under the same roof, one person's behaviour can potentially pose a risk to everyone else in the home. In those situations, Sutton said it's reasonable to at least set rules about hygiene.
"Do the best you can to set your boundaries," she said. "You can have some sanitizer by the door, you can have some notes to make sure people wash their hands … just something to increase people's awareness, and that often has an effect."
And before any tough conversations, be they about COVID-19 or any other challenging topic, Sutton said it doesn't hurt to take a few deep breaths.