I’m not outspoken about much, but will not, can not, hold back my battle cry about masks. Would I feel so adamant if I didn’t possess a crisp death certificate with, “CORONAVIRUS 2019” in an envelope inside the file cabinet beside me? Maybe, maybe not. The envelope came sealed with a sticker embossed with the name of the funeral home that handled my mother’s funeral. I thought it was their way of dressing up a bill, but it was actually dignifying something far worse.
COVID deniers and mask mockers undermine my mother’s dignity, along with the dignity of 29 other souls lost to the pandemic in the 120-fed facility where she died—for starters. Many of her caregivers became seriously ill and continue to fight for their health. My children lost my full attention during one of the most uncertain period of their lives. Anti-mask sentiment sure feels like spit in our faces. It feels like a taunt. A threat. A power trip. Gaslighting.
I want to scream at anyone trying to tell me that they need more than a cloth-and-spray-bottle demonstration to do what the medical community agrees is a protective measure. Even if “we” are somehow being duped into going around wearing dinner napkins on our faces, we at least deserve to believe that a sign in front of a business declaring itself “COVID Safe” is true. If it’s not true, I’d be happy enough with a post-it adding, “Just Kidding.”
That’s my wound, and I’m not ashamed to be channeling it toward what I believe to be the good of society. And to me and most of the people I trust, universal masking is a no-brainer component of making these impositions unnecessary.
It may be a generalization, but the mask opponents I’ve encountered tend to exude narcissism. For most pathological narcissists, under the self-aggrandized lack of empathy is a deep wound festering with shame.
Safety and freedom
There’s no question that feeling unsafe fires a big, raw nerve for me; and I suspect there’s a similar pulsing, terrified current running through those who cling to the notion of freedom so fiercely and define it so broadly. I believe the emotions on both sides of the issue are just as valid. I don’t want to threaten anyone’s freedom any more than others actively try to prevent my safety.
So what will it take to keep individuals’ fear of danger, shame, and weakness intact while also preventing spread of disease?
Clearly, simply setting an example of societal stewardship, sharing verified content, and getting increasingly snippy on Twitter isn’t helping. Trying to drown out the other side with more and louder words isn’t working. It’s drawing out the most toxic particles of all of us—me included—and spewing the vile gas all over the place.
Emotional toxicity can’t be contained with a piece of cloth.
I don’t want to be a person who motivates others with shame, and I happen to also believe that government should be authoritative, not authoritarian. But when asking politely or advising firmly don’t work, what’s left besides hard-and-fast rules with consequences?
Benefit of the doubt
It’s so easy to get consumed with outrage when others start poking around at our wounds. Wounds are not weakness; they’re spots of heightened awareness. We learn to protect those places unconsciously and steadfastly.
We can argue all day using bad analogies, like seatbelt laws. If you don’t want to wear a seatbelt, have at it. If you try to evade emissions standards that affect the quality of life for all of us, we’ve got a problem.
The bigger problem is that COVID precautions, by nature, lose effectiveness with compromise. Meanwhile, pathogens get trickier and scarier with time. They adapt for their survival. As humans, our inability to do so is killing us off.
And even if partial compliance could be better than none, why can’t we cooperate for the duration of the emergency and while continuing to study the virus and its transmission? Can we just agree to wear the masks long enough to figure out something better? Can we demonstrate a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to a generation of kids who have struggled in a way most of us haven’t experienced?
In real-time, our youth are watching the world deteriorate while the adults in charge just keep yelling over one another. Can we show a little more for ourselves? Because—guess what? Dinner napkin or not, we all look like a bunch of fools.
Debra A. Shute is a journalist.
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