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WHO Measures Alter Routines: New Opportunities for Conflict Management Resulting from Influenza A (H1N1)

Some writers have highlighted the positive impact of the world economic crisis in the growing professional field of mediation. I want to highlight new situations to practice conflict management skills, resulting from Influenza A (H1N1).

At the societal level the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends social distancing (keeping at least an arm’s length distance from others, minimizing gatherings), respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes), hand hygiene, and household ventilation, as the most effective public health measures to reduce or delay disease (morbidity) caused by pandemic influenza.

These recommendations have been translated in national policies implementing social distancing measures such as class suspensions, adjusting working patterns, encouraging reduction in travel and crowding of the mass transport system; and in general the cancellation, restriction, or modification of mass gatherings. So, the social philosophy of dealing with influenza is social separateness.

The assessment of the disruption in education, entertainment, work, trade, travel and society in general of the WHO recommendations may be highly variable from country to country and dependent upon multiple factors (including culture, the effects of the media and the underlying state of preparedness).

Last week, the President of Mexico, the epicenter of the global outbreak, in a televised address, said; “There is no safer place to protect yourself against catching Influenza H1N1 than in your house”. He ordered schools, government offices, tribunals, churches, universities, bars, billiards, mediation centers, theaters, dancing centers, show business, parks, cinemas, museums, among others, to be closed.

The social effect of the Mexican policy compels people to interact only with whom they personally know and to stay away from public places and crowds.

I perceive that new personal conflicts are rapidly growing because people are obliged to stay in their inner circle and are deprived of habitual social interactions.

Why staying home is going to lead to more conflicts and how to respond?

Under present circumstances, staying home is not and will not be the result of a personal or family decision but a policy directive. It is a forceful recommendation that may break routines for the normal life style of thousands. It is a trigger that alters routine from the outside.

Breaching routines may be welcome by many, especially if it is voluntary decision. In occasions, one way to tackle a social anxiety problem could be to break a monotonous routine. Also, changing a dull routine in life may be pleasant.

However, most of life is habitual. We do the same things we did yesterday, the day before and every day for the last month. Routines make we who we are. It is common to hear that one way to insure general health is to maintain a consistent routine.

Anyone’s daily life consists of a variety of behavioral patterns, such as conduct associated with going to school, going to work, playing with friends, having a coffee, taking tea, walking the dog, assisting to Church, eating out, reading the newspaper, watching TV, interacting with Internet, watering the garden, going to the cine or theater. Each of these behaviors is a routine associating our personality, situation, behavioral dispositions, expectations, and behavioral choices. We follow explicit and inexplicit rules or understandings for social life at home, with friends and at work.

In our daily life we cannot generally do what we most desire, simply because there are other people with their own motivations. There is no life without coexistence and there is no coexistence without confrontation.

Furthermore, our abilities limit us, and we must compromise with financial resources, physical powers, and dispositions governing nature and social rules. What routines we follow are then the results of behavioral conflicts between ourselves and the external world; an interactive working out of our behavior in a specific situation until a routine that we can live with is established. Routines constitute a behavioral and dialectical balance between us and our world.

However, the philosophy of social distancing dictated by the WHO may force families and people, whether we like it or not, out of our routine into new personal conflicts until a routine congruent with the new situation is established.

Disrupting routines means that we no longer present the same situation to others. Expectations and perceptions must accordingly be adjusted, and people must work out new rules and change in behavior.

A new agreed structure of expectations and perceptions has to be developed to deal with the mutual conflict, through a process of interaction, until again a new behavioral routine is developed. To this end, basic principles of amicable conflict resolution are appropriate. Observe, listen, ask and apologize are the magic behaviors to work out new acceptable routines, that could be even more satisfactory than the previous ones.

The paradox is that an unexpected calamity is shifting routines and producing temporary new situations that constitute spaces for vital and long-lasting learning of conflict management skills.


Luis Miguel Diaz

Luis Miguel Díaz, unfortunately now deceased, fathered four children and distrusted language, theories and authority, including his own as a father. Admires artists and scientists and their lives. He received his Law Degree at UNAM, Mexico (1974); and LLM (1976) and SJD (1986) at Harvard University Law School. President of the Interdisciplinary Center for Conflict… MORE >

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