Sunday, May 16, 2021

to mask or not to mask?

The question on my mind (and heart) this afternoon is: “How may we live in hope when our society seems incapable of any sort of collective action?”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” Since then, I have seen no shortage of strong reactions from all kinds of people.

What seems to be at issue is the updated guideline that a fully vaccinated person “can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.” This is the case even when in public places such as theaters, shopping centers, restaurants, and sporting arenas.

On the one hand, there are those who have opposed CDC guidance thus far who are quite happy about the new recommendations. Many of them seem to be saying, “Well, it’s about time!”

On the other hand, there are those who have followed CDC guidance thus far who are upset about the new recommendations. The general response in this camp has been: “I don’t care what the CDC says, I’m still going to wear my mask in public.”

I see no small measure of irony in both responses, and I must confess I am more than a little distressed by this.

For starters, neither “side” seems to be taking into account the many exceptions there are to these guidelines. For example, the CDC stipulates that the public should abide by all “federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance” that may require mask-wearing and/or impose physical distancing restrictions. Among those general exceptions, the CDC notes that mask-wearing will continue to be enforced in this interim period on buses, trains, and airplanes (including any respective transportation hubs).

But I think what distresses me the most is the way we Americans take something as simple as mask-wearing to further divide us. Incredibly, we have turned it into a wedge issue; we politicize it. We seem to have a kind of soul-sickness that frames any kind of call to collective action as a reason to go to war with each other.

What’s so scary about this most recent wedge issue is how we will be able to physically identify the “liberals” and “conservatives” in our midst. All we will have to do is look to see who is wearing their mask when they don’t have to wear it. You could scarcely find a better recipe for “Instant Othering.” God help us!

We are in the midst of a major culture shift that has been going on for decades already. But the unusual stress of the pandemic is bringing into full relief the nature and depth of that shift. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the likelihood of seeing people masked in highly populated public spaces is here to stay, even if the venue in question does not require it.

It doesn’t even have anything to do with COVID anymore. Friends of mine who are still going to mask after being fully vaccinated will do so any time they are ill or any time they especially want to avoid becoming ill. This will apply even to the common cold.

This is the norm in many countries and I dare say most Americans think that the practice is strange. I suggest that countries who practice this kind of voluntary masking have a higher sensibility to the impact of their actions on the collective. As a highly individualistic culture, Americans will have a hard time with this.

Given that masking will now be common even after the crisis of the pandemic has passed, my concern lies with how this new practice can draw us together and how it can also divide us. It is crucial that we find a way to come together. We must stop tearing each other apart. We need to be wise about the battles we feel compelled to fight and the absolute judgments we are prepared to make.

As someone who aspires to follow Jesus, I want to appeal to all of us to live by his timeless words: “Judge not.” You don’t even have to claim Christianity as your religion to see the wisdom in such an admonition. Of course, we need to make decisions and be wise, but what Jesus is talking about here is the spirit of condemnation. He was speaking against certain religious leaders who were prone to condemn others because of their life situation and/or the choices they have made.

We have got to stop judging each other and learn to look at one another through the eyes of love…with compassion and understanding. To do this we must admit that we never know the full situation with another person or a group of people.

I am convinced that the spirit of condemnation feeds on the toxicity of ignorance. If we could really see what’s going on inside each other…if we could really identify with the challenges they face, the aspirations they possess, and the reality of their history…we would not be so quick to judge, to look on another with disdain, mockery, and ridicule.

As we head into this new reality, we need to remember that we will not be able to pigeonhole someone based on whether they have chosen to wear a mask or not. Labeling another is easy but it always prevents really knowing them. It also hinders your own wellbeing—whether mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Remain open to others who are different than you. Refuse to make snap judgments. Enlarge the capacity of your soul to provide a hospitable environment for others. We may not be able to find a way back to true “collective action” as a society again, but let us do all we can to humanize one another.

to mask or not to mask?
reflections by troy cady

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