Originally published in The Fulcrum | Photo credit: Macau Photo Agency, unsplash.com
Shame! Shame! Shame!
Such is the chant of the Twitter mob against those who do not wear masks.
And I appreciate the sentiment.
To prance around mask-less is, without a doubt, a sucky thing to do. Especially when some very smart people—some might even call them doctors—say that face coverings have a role to play in stopping the spread of the virus.
To fly in the (masked) face of public health advice is at best risky and at worst fatal to the most vulnerable among us. But it does not make you an evil person.
Maybe there is something in the air. Maybe I am going through some changes in my life, and it is making me rethink some things. Normally, I would be the first to call out the facial nudists for single-handedly spreading the Plague.
But hey, new day, new me. I am going to make a case for compassion towards those whom many have called a bunch of yahoos.
So, before you fling your righteousness across cyberspace, hoping for humble deference to yoursuperior intellect, let us explore a crucial dimension to your online interaction.
What we need to remember is that humans are complicated and messy creatures. Rarely can a person be boiled down to one word, thing, or defining feature.
If we take this into consideration, then going nude-faced to the supermarket should not be the be-all, end-all of our impression of that person. Rather, it should just be the beginning. Why are they not wearing a mask? If they are distrustful of scientists, why are they distrustful? If they are afraid of losing their rights, why are they afraid? What happened in their life that informs their decisions now?
I am no therapist, but I have been to therapy–a fact, I suppose, that can work either for or against me here. But by exploring my own emotions and traumas, I have learned enough to know that people rarely do things without an underlying reason.
I ask you to consider this: when someone refuses to wear a mask, their action is wrong. But to shame them based on this action does nothing to ease other worries they may have.
Let me be clear. I do not mean to say that you, who throws sick shade and slam dunks over your opponents, are wrong in feeling the way you do. You also have a right to be upset. But I would ask you to look inward to make sure you know what is driving your anger.
I am a cancer survivor. I was 24 years old when I was diagnosed. And this gives me a special flavor of resentment towards the never-maskers.
On the one hand, they are putting people who are immunocompromised at risk of death. My anger here is rooted in my own fear and experience of being immunocompromised.
And on the second hand, they are exhibiting a special kind of ableism that is reserved for those who have never lost trust in their bodies. This anger is rooted the helplessness I felt when I was first diagnosed.
I am not the only person in the world who has experienced suffering. It would be unfair of me to assume others have never experienced pain like me. If I genuinely believe this fact, then I can’t believe that people who don’t wear masks are doing so for only selfish reasons. We have all been shocked by the pandemic, we all have our own histories, so we will all react differently.
In the end, I suppose this is a long, drawn-out way to iterate an old but faithful cliché: people are complicated.
But sometimes we need reminding.