To mask or not to mask?

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Dear Tracey,

Can you tell my why some people are so hell bent on refusing to wear masks? I don’t get it.

My mother is in an assisted living place and she’s terrified the virus will get in there and infect all of them. She says she feels like a “sitting duck” and I don’t blame her. She calls it “The Invisible Killer” and I don’t know how to reassure her she’s safe. 

The people who work there tell me they’re doing everything possible to protect the residents but honestly, that doesn’t make me feel better. We all know this virus can run through a nursing home in a flash. 

I don’t want my mother’s life to end just because someone is too self-centered to put on a simple mask. 

Is there any way to talk sense to those people who won’t do their part?


Mad, Mad, MAD

Dear Reader,

You have every right to be angry. It must be terrifying and frustrating to know your vulnerable mother is in a living situation that might put her at increased risk for contracting COVID 19.

Thanks to a global body of research, many of us are determined to stop this deadly virus by  wearing a mask and taking other precautions.

However, doing something like wearing a mask is a totally new concept for Americans and when something is new, people tend to approach it through their own values, experiences, and biases.

On a very simple level, some people find the masks too uncomfortable to wear and they are simply unwilling to experience any kind of discomfort.

For some, the mask represents weakness and rather than be seen as weak, some people overcompensate with a show of strength. (Think of a gorilla who pounds his chest to appear larger and more threatening. Or how about packing a rocket launcher to a protest? There’s no better example of overcompensation.)

Other people hate being told what to do. They equate wearing a simple mask as loss of personal freedom, something Americans deeply value. When an individual believes his/her liberty is threatened, we have seen people become indignant and morally outraged, often digging their heels in even further over their definition of personal freedom. 

Fear is also driving people to make bad, life threatening decisions. I was absolutely shocked to see a protestor carrying a huge sign that read, “My freedom is worth more than your safety.” My stomach actually turned. While I’m pretty sure this man would loudly deny my theory, I imagine this level of self-centeredness is likely driven by fear. And when fear takes over, the rules of a civilized society can start to breakdown 

Sadly, all of these reactions to wearing a mask are exacerbated because, for months now the entire nation has been living with incredible uncertainty. Jobs have been lost, rent can’t be paid, kids are home from school, the future looks bleak. Fuses are short. Sadly, defiance can feel oddly satisfying and even powerful. (Too bad it’s so short-sighted.)  

But we also have a long tradition in this country of looking out for one another, especially when it comes to the health and safety of the whole. As a group we’ve come to accept some personal sacrifices for the good of ourselves and our fellow Americans. We have seatbelt laws and obey traffic lights. Drinking and driving is illegal. Thanks to research on second hand smoke, there are now restrictions about where smokers can light up. 

Do we like all of these laws and restrictions? Maybe not but they certainly have resulted in lower rates of illness, injury, and death. The thing those refusing to wear masks seem to have lost sight of is this; being part of our society allows us certain freedoms but it also demands that we share certain responsibilities.

I happen to think masks are uncomfortable. So what! My slight discomfort is just not a good enough reason to skip wearing one. No, I prefer to think of it as one way I can show my fellow Americans that I care about them and have respect for them. It doesn’t feel like forced conformity or a loss of my personal freedom. Instead, I choose to think of it as a way I can show solidarity with my community. Why? Because we’re all in this together.