COVID Cappuccino Run: A Thought on Rationalized Social Disobedience

Throughout this terrible pandemic, I have stood patiently by outside my apartment building watching the world pass by as I stay within the guidelines of what is restricted and what is allowed. With all non-essential activities prohibited, that has meant I have only gone for groceries, to work, and for walks throughout the past now year and four months. The remainder of the time has been spent in my unit and just outside the front of the building. It is not a terrible thing to stay in I have found and it has become just my normal. However, while sitting outside my building staring at the coffee shop across from me I cannot help notice that throughout the pandemic essential somehow meant to many people you could still go for a Cappuccino run. This despite it clearly being anything but essential.

It’s very common to rationalize disobedience. From a young age those with siblings will say “Well Glen did it” thinking, therefore I can as well, if an action of disobedience is permitted. The wrongfulness is not understood if it is permitted by your brother or sister. In society, we must often restrict ourselves seeing people behave in ways that we know are wrong, however, are not reprimanded or disciplined in any meaningful way. Some of the time, we ourselves do not want to do that action, other times we would like to but have internal constraints that guide us not too. At times, we find those governing us sharing reasons why one person is permitted but not everyone.

With the COVID pandemic, early on it was known that to get through it we would all need to act in unison. Meaning half the population cannot go about living as though nothing was happening, while the other half isolate and take precautions. The reason for this was because it would spread from those thinking little of the risks to those who thought greatly of them. The Toronto experience during the second and especially third wave showed that there was a gradual sliding of obedience to public health mandates as more and more people saw others flaunting the restrictions such as making unnecessary trips. This of course was to great detriment with surely more than a few lives lost from those who did not heed the words of advice from the health officials. The disobedience that led to illness and increased spread, was rationalized in part by merely people seeing other people taking unnecessary risks such as nonessential trips to the coffee shop. It was then thought in a quasi-herd mentality that the risk is okay, despite advice to the contrary.

The rationalization to disobey public health guidelines came additionally from the simple fact that the disobedience to public health measures regarding what constituted essential was not in any manner enforced. There was no possibility of it. Therefore, as the pandemic continued and people saw increasingly not what was being asked of them but what was unrestricted in real terms the wrongfulness, the consequences, were not understood by the public. It is not the law or guidelines which are strict or harsh, but always the enforcement of it which is either strict or lacks. Where paper meets the outside world is where difference is made.

Many would say in response to the above, despite knowing and seeing people take unnecessary trips to coffee shops or unessential trips, that they continued steadfast with following the instructions.  We restrict ourselves when others are permitted or perhaps better put left to go unfettered. Others might argue they took all precautions they could and had to balance isolation with mental health. This rationalization to break from internal constraints, is deeply personal to the individual as they experienced the pandemic. Although early on as mentioned it was known there would have to be a vast public agreement to take precautions as asked, many realized after the first wave that as some have stated in the media, not everyone is on the same boat but rather simply experiencing the same storm.

As it could not be asked of someone working on location to take the same precautions as someone working entirely remotely, rationalizing disobedience for those forced to take greater risk in their daily lives was likely easy. For those who worked on location, it was not that they were seeing other people taking risk and therefore the wrongfulness not understood that led to their flaunting of rules. It may have been that the group of people taking daily risks were both desensitized to the risk and felt as part of a different group entirely from those working remotely. A group entitled to things others are not. Even those who enforce the law such as a police officer, or those who defend the law such as lawyers, along with all sorts of people who claim strict adherence to rules, will rationalize at times to themselves that they have earned leeway when the action being forbidden is wanted.

In terms of this pandemic, the treat people gave themselves was a quick trip to their favourite coffee shop, the only thing open. Perhaps with this thinking, it is a part of human nature to treat ourselves with some forms of disobedience. Strangely it seems that some forms of disobedience may at times be earned through strict adherence to rules forbidding it.