Well, in the case of COVID-19, the outcomes can be physically dangerous.
The worst-case scenario is we die, like those who attended the “coronavirus parties” intended to see who gets infected first. Or we require extensive medical care, ringing up exorbitant medical bills. Otherwise, we become carriers and infect those close to us, who might end up dead or critically ill. The guilt, shame, and regret will likely haunt us for a lifetime.
For those of us who engage in socially and personally responsible behavior, the other group who doesn’t makes us anxious about the added risk: Even if some of us simply become asymptomatic carriers, we risk infecting those around us with poorer immune systems when we go home and remove our masks, specifically those who are older or with preexisting health conditions.
The thing about getting the coronavirus is, if you’re critically ill, you may have to be ventilated. This means your lungs are already in terrible shape, and you must be put into a medically induced coma. If you make it through, you still suffer permanent lung damage. If you don’t, you die alone.
Considering these outcomes for yourself or someone else is distressing. As it is, death is a taboo subject, until it hits us and we’re unprepared.
On a structural level, the chasm between responsible and irresponsible behavior is also fueling racism. UCLA professor Vickie Mays tells STAT: “We have African Americans who have been dragged out of stores, who have been ordered by police and store guards to pull their masks down or take their masks off” in a phenomenon where Black men fear wearing the mask more than the coronavirus. In a system that’s already unfairly rigged against them, there’s added anxiety and trauma.
No matter how much justification we’ve engaged in, we may not be fully convinced of the wisdom behind our decisions. Even if we are great at lying to ourselves, there will always be a part of us that’s aware we’re engaging in that, meaning, we’ll always feel some sort of discomfort.