Designer Face Masks

Are you wearing a protective mask during this pandemic? Donning a face mask when you are sick is normal in many Asian countries. And it is strictly enforced for everyone during an epidemic. This morning, I learned that you can be fined $600 in Thailand for being caught in public without a face mask.

Its a different story in Europe and the US. President Trump announced the CDC recommendation to wear face masks in public a few days ago. The President emphasized that this would be ‘voluntary’ and that he, himself, would be unlikely to wear one. It was a pretty soft sell.

A Clash of Cultural Values

Many of us resist wearing face masks. Why? There is the science, as well as the limited supply of masks. But, there are also cultural factors. Generally, Westerners don’t like being told what to do in these matters. We don’t like to conform until we have been educated. Then we will make our own decision about the matter. Its our individual choice.

Culturally, the Individualist versus the Collective Identity values have something to say about this.

Individual IdentityCollective Identity
  • Individual self-expression is the ultimate goal.
  • People join groups based on common interests and may move in and out of groups as needed or desired.
  • It is important to speak one’s mind even if others disagree.
  • Personal initiative is rewarded.
  • Group harmony and consensus are ultimate goals.
  • People conform to social norms and determine identity through lifelong group affiliation.
  • Disagreement should be avoided.
  • Personal initiative may be punished.

                                 *For more cultural values go to ‘Common Cultural Values’

You can easily guess where your culture lands on the above table.  Westerners tend to identify with Individualism.  Other nations may be more prone to be Collectivists. 

To successfully influence change, leaders tap into the cultural values of the group. In a collectivist culture, the leaders issue a directive appealing to the collective good and folks are on board. These are cultures where people are strongly inclined to do what is best for the group. That is why there is large-scale compliance in China, Singapore, Taiwan and other collective cultures.

How will more individually oriented nations get on board? How can leaders appeal to the value of individualism to influence change? I have three thoughts:

  1. The CDC did the right thing in making masks ‘voluntary.’ Trump may have over-emphasized that, IMO. But coming on too strong would go against our sense of personal liberty.
  2. Appeals should be made that include the opportunity for self-expression. I’m talking about designer masks. Run of the mill, boring white or hospital-blue masks, will not do, especially for the most ardent individualist among us.
  3. To inspire us Trump should wear a mask. It should reflect his personality. It could say MAGA, or “Read my tweet.”

What does your designer mask look like?


  1. Living in Moldova, it is a mixed bag with masks. Probably 50/50 right now in the groceries. In a normal situation (pre-covid19), you do see some people wearing masks on the bus if they are sick. The only thing that convinces me that it is good to wear a mask is for the sake of others–what if I am a carrier and I don’t realize it?! I find them annoying and realize that they don’t protect me all the well ; )

    The question of motivating others is important. Do I know how to motivate another person? Without manipulation?! And who defines manipulation, btw?

    • Hi Laura. I appreciate your comments. They remind us that cultural values have a range. So even those of us from individualistic cultures understand and are influenced by collectivism. Its merely a matter of degree.

      About manipulation… humm… that is interesting. Brings up morality and ethics. I’m thinking that manipulation plays out a bit differently in each culture depending on “power distance”– the idea that power is distributed unequally in society. Cultures in which that reality is accepted, even by the less powerful, have high power distance. Where it is not, like in the US, the power distance is low. One of these days, I’ll write a post on it.

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