What Does Contagion Have To Do With Behaviours?

Contagion: something that is spread from one person to another. A contagious element.

Contagion is a term that stays high in my levels of consciousness today. And the pandemic has raised it even higher, by giving this term new meaning. The education I have received from things like masks and social distancing, has brought home the previously unrealized notion that we physically infect each other all the time.  But where do behaviours come in? 

My education about contagion

It's not limited to physical infection.

There is a term called social and emotional contagion. And this notion is even more alarming than the comprehension of how easily we infect each other physcially. 

Have you ever had an experience where the mere presence of another person shifts your mood? Their emotions, or emotional state, is almost tangible and immediately you feel yourself shift? This is social and emotional contagion.

Daily we infect each other by our behaviour and attitude. And this infection is contagious. People literally catch our behaviour and attitude. In other words, my behaviour and attitude can give you permission to behave just like me.

From planes, to weights, to rubbish.

The plane approaches the landing strip, and the air hostess repeats, ‘cell phones must be off.’ But the guy next to me ignores the instruction and begins to text. What happens now?

A )           You complain openly to the air hostess about it 

B  )         Think internally, “what a jerk!” 

C   )        Also switch on your phone and send a text

A very likely answer is C: He gives me permission to do the same. It’s like the guy at gym who leaves the weights on the bar. When I finish at the bench press, I do the same, as ‘nobody else seems to be putting the weights away.’

The good news about this type of contagion is that it goes both ways. When I walk down a street and pick up litter, unbeknown to me, I just might be infecting another with a dose of responsibility.

Who are the 5 people?

Jim Rohn has the beautiful quote, ‘We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.’

Why? Because we infect each other. Invest too much time with the whiners, the aggressors, or those who love mediocrity and sadly, we become them. And in the same light, be with those who are kind, who find answers, who dare greatly, and it’s hard to stay the same.

Finding the right models

We are all wired for connection. That’s one of the reasons why this past year has felt so weird and messy. We need to connect and associate with others. We need to be seen. But based on our newfound awareness of contagion, we must be purposeful in connection.

A most essential component of connection are the people we bring in to our ‘corner’ who become a model or reference point for us. We call these our “cornermen/cornerwomen”. A model is someone who shows you what’s possible or not. A model might be known personally or through publicity. Regardless of who they are, appoint them based on how they stretch you into a better version of yourself.

From Noah, to Federer, to the mother

If Trevor Noah is your model, disadvantage does not define you. Whereas if Roger Federer is your model, you renegotiate retirement age. And if the single mom who overcomes hurdles for the sake of her children is your model, you know you can push through. But if the guy who cannot usher a good word about anyone is your model, don’t be surprised by your own callousness.

The questions...

What am I giving people permission to do?


Who should my models be?     


There could easily be more questions that surface if you spend a few minutes pondering. If we constantly ask questions that evoke perspective and awareness, our conscious actions will become fueled by our perspective and awareness. We can have more of a say over the way we live our lives, and less is left up to the fate of our contagions that we aren’t aware of.

All I can say, is that I hope I make my best behaviours, my most conscious and contagious ones.  

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