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Are Face Masks The New Condoms?

Are face masks the new condoms?

We will be less touchy-feely and far more wary – and the transition will feel strange.

I have just visited my great friend Peter’s new street food restaurant at Crusoe’s on the beach at Tynemouth. My friend Peter is a very “huggy touchy-feely” sort of bloke, and is often known to give me full on hugs with kisses. It was difficult visiting him and adhering to social distancing as it is in his DNA to hug.

I was particularly struck by how much I miss physical contact with other human beings. Now, I am not described as a big hugger, but this is the longest period in my life that I have gone without skin-to-skin human touch. As we’re preparing to go out into the world once more, the warm embrace of my friend Peter’s greeting could be judged to be, potentially, too dangerous.

“Touchy-feely” behaviour in general could cease to be acceptable, and with it, everything about a world normally full of physical contact might change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered our normal behaviour unrecognisable. Handshakes have now turned into awkward elbow bumps. In my recent visit to my friend David’s gym, an encounter with one of his trainers turned into a very awkward elbow bump moment, as apparently you are actually not supposed to touch, and I got told off! We are seeing changes in our school and work with many activities now being conducted remotely. For example, zoom has seen a 200% in share price as most socialising happens virtually.


In order to protect ourselves now, face masks are the new normal, and like condoms before, they are now sold everywhere, in different colours, sizes and even scents. Our faces are becoming nearly unrecognisable as we wear a mask to go outside.

The virus is slithering at the edges of our senses, and to keep it away, we must draw boundaries at two (now one) meters and a face mask to protect others.

We must tell those we love, they are no longer welcome within our boundaries, and at the edge of the boundaries they must wear masks.

We now measure intimacy in feet and metres, not in shared affinities and desires, with tactile touching or whispering in people’s ear a touch too-near.

This change we are seeing is not linked to medical operating rooms or a bank robbery. Masks were never the norm in Western Society but are now essential. Yet at times, face coverings – whether women’s veils or bandanas worn by demonstrators – have resulted in outright bans or society’s anger. Many people say they are intimidated by them.

The virus has led to our world becoming increasingly ‘liquid’, subject to constant and accelerated change, and we are having to operate without the familiar context and predictable patterns of behaviours that have been so much park of the pre-covid world.

Yet in every cloud there is a silver lining. In every problem a solution. In every face mask, a new way of connecting. Sometimes, new approaches surprise us with their upsides. My 11-year-old son Ethan, for instance, admits he may in fact prefer virtual learning and has becoming a thriving movie maker, as he takes constant virtual classes on the topic! The forces of change can force us to evaluate hidden pleasures, like with Ethan and movie making.

Collectively, we may be experiencing a reconsidering of priorities, the lasting effects of which will not only be personal, but economic on a global scale.

Disruption and isolation have a way of encouraging us to selectively re-evaluate our lives – and that can be generative.

When everything is normal and routine, we become hooked into an autopilot mode of living. Right now, we are seeing a lot of habit change, and the formation of new habits.  The changes are forcing people to reconsider the life they had before. For me, before the pandemic, I went to my local coffee shop and pub every day, and now I have been having to adapt to that change over the past four months, and probably for the next six, and I now wonder if I will ever even go back to that routine.

Humans are creatures of habit – we like the familiar, the known, the practised. In times of uncertainty or crisis, we cling to habits even more so and fight change, because routines create a much-needed structure in our everyday lives that let’s us to feel purposeful.

Some people see change and disruption as a giant black wave that will overwhelm them; others as a painful experience to get through as quickly as possible; others just shrivel up and hope it goes away if they don’t look at it; others see it as an opportunity to reset their lives; and others see it as a place laced with profits.

A daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.

Her father, was a chef, and he took his daughter to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.

He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing.
After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup. Turning to her and said: “What do you see?”

“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee”, she replied.

“Look closer” – the father said – “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.

“Dad, what does this mean?”, she asked.

He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity– the boiling water.

However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.

The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.

However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which are you?” – he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Author unknown


In life, things happen around us, things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us and the attitude adopt to those things.

Which one are you – a potato, egg or coffee bean?

The future is here now. This is not the end of something, but the start of something new. The lens you apply, the attitude you adopt, the mindset you adopt will define whether this change becomes your moment in time, if it is that chance you have been waiting for, that opportunity to emerge into a new life and a new way of doing things.

My suggestions for maximising the impact of the change that is happening in our lives now is to:

  • Hug the Monster by accepting negative emotions. It is important to acknowledge that a lot of anxious thoughts and emotions, and to accept them rather than trying to push them away or escape them. Also to stop letting people, or things who do so little for you, control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions.
  • Build New Playthings by creating new routines. Planning  and executing new routines that connect you to what really matters in life is the best recipe for good mental health.
  • Love yourself more by reinventing self-care. Science has shown that exercise, good nutrition and socialising are directly linked to emotional well-being, so now is the time to get creative and build a greater and wider circle of engagements.
  • Meditate to reflect, relate and reframe. Positivity is like a virus, the more you spread it, the more it lifts you up. If you have not 10 minutes for meditation a day, then you need to find an hour.

Check out or look online for good practices by others.

  • Adopt the right Mindset – If you do not consciously adopt a mindset one is subconsciously adopted for you
  • Be the change you want to see – There is never a better time than now to grab that dream, to action that thought, to implement that behaviour, to grasp that opportunity, to improve that relationship, to change that habit, to lose that weight, and to be the person you always dreamt you were.

Last thoughts

We spend 80% of our time worry about things that never happen.

Bear in mind that research shows that experiencing stress and negative emotions can have positive consequences. We know that people who go through very difficult challenges can emerge from them more robust, with a stronger sense of psychological resilience, rekindled relationships and a renewed appreciation of life if they adopt the right attitude and mindset. Some describe it as an opportunity to reset their lives and an opportunity to live more fully and purposefully. So don’t worry just live – while adopting the right mindset!

My questions:

  1. Will you come out this pandemic as a potato, egg or coffee bean?
  2. Are you someone who sees a problem in every solution, or a solution in every problem?
  3. Do you see this as the end of something or the beginning of something new?

About Dr Maurice Duffy

Irish. Author, Professor, Coach and Business strategist. The person Australian Captain Steve Smith credited with helping him back from his cricket ban. Coach to two Ashes wins. Coach to CEOs, Politicians and some of the best know international sports starts including Olympians. BBC ‘Thought for the Week’. Coached business leaders and organizations in 80 countries. Works with charities to do with Mental Health. Lives in North East England with his wife and 11-year-old son.