Special thanks to Wikipedia user Matthias Kabel, who has generously allowed his photo of Krampus in Salzburg, Austria 2008 to be used freely.
Yesterday, I read a very interesting op-ed on The New York Times entitled “Yes, People Are Traveling for the Holidays. Stop Shaming Them.” This piece, written by a pediatrician named Aaron E. Carroll, is about how many people, frustrated and angry about the spread of COVID-19 and the tremendous losses of life, have taken it upon themselves to shame and berate people who are making choices that they deem “wrong”. I’ve been writing about this phenomenon a lot myself. Frankly, it concerns me that so many people feel the need to police others. Below is a quote from Dr. Carroll’s opinion piece:
“The focus on blame is unhelpful, because what really matters is that people do as much as they reasonably can to prevent the spread of the disease, not that everyone adhere to the same set of rigid standards. I choose not to go inside friends’ homes, but I do eat outdoors at restaurants; other people might do the opposite. What’s important is that we all try to minimize risk.”
I decided to share the op-ed. A discussion ensued. I was grateful to see that it was a basically respectful discussion, although the person who had it with me seems to think I don’t have a clue about America and Americans. Believe me, I do know what Americans are like; I still am one myself, even though I have been away for a few years. It might be fair to say that I’m no longer used to how vocal, opinionated, demanding, and obnoxious Americans, as a whole, can be. I do notice them, for instance, when we’re in public places in Europe. Why? Because they’re so loud!
But when it comes to the coronavirus, I think both sides of the response to it have been insufferable and uncooperative, and that has led to a lot of discord and uncivilized behavior. I liked that the pediatrician who wrote the op-ed for The New York Times expressed himself in an even-handed, compassionate, and, I think, basically sensible way. He’s right about a lot of things, whether or not the population at large wants to admit it. Some people are simply bound and determined to do what they’re going to do, and no amount of public outrage is going to stop it.
Yelling at people, shaming them, calling them names, and harassing them only entrenches them in their beliefs and leads to more defiance. Whether or not you agree with their opinions, they still have the right to express them, and as long as there’s no law against it, they still have the right to travel and make other personal decisions. Moreover, in America, it truly is potentially dangerous to confront people over this issue. Many people are armed. I say, leave the enforcement up to the police and, for God’s sake, if you are concerned about catching COVID-19, stay the fuck out of people’s personal space.
A German friend agreed with me that shaming and blaming people who break the rules isn’t going to stop the behavior. But, she thinks heavy fines and police enforcement might. I tend to agree that fines, especially if they are vigorously pursued, might get people to behave. On the other hand, plenty of people ignore court orders. For instance, our ex landlady still owes us the money awarded in our lawsuit against her. I mentioned that, and my German friend replied, “Knecht Ruprecht or better Krampus should pay her a visit tomorrow. “
That gave me a laugh.
Many Americans may not know who Krampus is, unless they happen to have spent time in the European countries who have that tradition. I get a kick out of the moniker, “Krampus”, though. It sounds like a cranky name and it reminds me of menstrual cramps… something I haven’t experienced personally since October. Those who don’t know who Krampus is, however, may like an explanation.
Krampus is described as a being who is half demon, half goat. He punishes unruly and ill-behaved children during the Christmas season. He’s one of the companions of St. Nicholas, and as today is the day traditionally celebrated as The Feast of Saint Nicholas, Krampus would have made his appearance last night, handing out lumps of coal to the naughty and visiting homes and businesses, sometimes with St. Nicholas and sometimes alone.
When my friend mentioned Krampus visiting our ex landlady, I couldn’t help but laugh. I can just imagine her shocked reaction as he gives her a lump of dirty coal, especially since I now know she is apparently quite the clean freak. She seems to think she can do no wrong, can make baseless accusations and engage in character assassinations, and that everything bad that happens is entirely someone else’s responsibility.
In that sense, she’s not unlike Donald Trump, who is sitting in the White House, checked out of his job and bitching about being “cheated” out of a second term. It’s utter bullshit, of course. Even the Attorney General admits that there’s been no evidence of election fraud, but Trump and his followers are still insisting there’s no way 7 million extra votes for Biden could possibly be legit. In Trump’s tiny mind, he can do no wrong, while those of us who are sane can see that he clearly can fuck up and, in fact, does so on the daily.
Wouldn’t it be funny if visits from Krampus were a real thing? I can think of a few people who deserve some coal for Christmas, although even coal has its uses, right? You can always throw it in the fireplace.
Anyway, regarding the op-ed from The New York Times… I remain firm in my opinion that yelling at people for not doing what you think they should be doing is counterproductive and potentially very dangerous. I doubt many of the people who commented negatively on Dr. Carroll’s opinion actually took the time to read and really consider it. Yes, we know there’s a pandemic. We know it’s a serious thing, and some people are dying or becoming disabled because of it. We don’t know how long those who are “long haulers” will be suffering from their symptoms. It would be nice if everyone decided to cooperate. But, like the old saying goes, you get more flies with honey than vinegar. And some people are not going to be convinced until they are personally affected.
Also… there is a difference between momentary compliance due to public shaming and an actual attitudinal and behavioral change. Many people will do something for a moment to get out of an awkward or embarrassing situation. That doesn’t mean they will keep doing what you think is the right thing to do. Because to them, what is more important to them is what they think. And, I think if you’re honest, you’ll admit that you’re exactly the same way. Almost no one likes being told what to do, what to believe, or how to think.
I think the situation we’re in right now is extraordinary, at least for those of us who are currently living in it. The vast majority of us have never experienced this kind of public health threat before. But, the fact is, this is not the first pandemic and humans have survived far worse than this. Eventually, this situation will be mitigated, although another may be soon on the horizon. I’m sure that back when the plagues were sweeping across Europe, people thought it was the end of the world. It wasn’t, of course, although many people did die. But it’s going to take respect and cooperation for us to get past this mess. As Dr. Carroll points out,
I understand that Covid-19 shaming is rooted in frustration. We’re angry about our inability to get a handle on the pandemic. But in our quest to scold and lay blame, even when we’re publicly calling out truly bad actors, we’re just making ourselves feel superior, which only makes it harder to achieve the solidarity needed for shared sacrifice.
We can all do better; we’re all in this together. This is just a virus, one that’s too easily transmitted to stigmatize its effects. The only shame we should associate with Covid-19 is that our country has done so little to fight it.
So… be a good citizen and do what you can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and naughty behavior. And don’t be an asshole to other people, regardless of which side of the COVID-19 debate you’re on. Don’t tempt a visit from Krampus. And hopefully, menstrual Krampus, the evil twin, won’t be paying ME any visits anytime soon.