Face Masks

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I woke up Friday morning with a cold. By Saturday it had taken root throughout my body and I had the classic chills (and a very low grade fever), no energy, a rattle in my chest and a head that felt as if it needed a sump pump. A very pleasant weekend indeed!
Since I stopped commuting on trains and riding in elevators every day I haven’t been sick at all. This isn’t a coincidence and I had been on a train, in an elevator, on the subway, and in a number of offices early last week. I’m sure sniffles abounded. As did a business point.
If you look at the footage out of Japan these days, you’ll see a lot of folks wearing medical face masks. You might think that it’s protection from all the toxic dust in the air following the earthquake or tsunami, but that’s not really why they wear them.  I noticed the custom for the first time many years ago when I went to Japan for the Olympics.  Genius that I am, I asked if there was some reason we should be wearing masks too – as if our Japanese hosts were allowing all their guests to get sick.  I was told that in fact the custom was to wear a mask if you were feeling ill yourself so as not spread germs and infect others.

Contrast that consideration with that of the folks who drag themselves to work in your office and infect the entire crew.  In an age where we communicate via email and can made video phone calls as easlily as punching an intercom, there is no reason to do that.  I suppose we want to demonstrate that we’re troopers and a little cold isn’t going to deter us.  But it’s more than that.

The Japanese have a focus on the collective good.  I might be sick and if I choose to go out I have a responsibility not to infect others.  We have a selfish perspective – I want to show how tough I am, I want to impress the boss.  I don’t care if 3 or 30 others end up with my germs.  We lack as strong a sense of social responsibility.  If you’ve been reading articles on how they are coping with this unimaginable tragedy, the collective, cooperative effort is amazing to us Westerners but very much the norm there.  Read any articles on looting?  I don’t think so.  There isn’t any.  In fact, there’s no corporate looting either.  Supermarkets are cutting prices and vending machines are being set to dispense things for free by their owners.

That external focus is a great business point, something to think about as your hear someone sniffling in the next cube or on the train home.  And now, I’m going back to bed – maybe this cold will be gone by tomorrow.  In the meantime, let me know what you think.

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