A Message to the Anti-Masker

To the anti-mask woman I encountered recently in Shoppers Drug Mart,

You don’t know me. We haven’t had a conversation, even though I was tempted to start one. I simply witnessed you entering a busy Shoppers.

I was right behind you as you came through the automatic doors, breezing past the hand sanitizer without slowing down. Then I saw you weren’t wearing a mask either. I wondered aloud (but really to myself), “Seriously?”

You and the young girl you were with – I’d judge her age at around 12 or 13 – headed for a display of earrings not far from the doors. The girl, in contrast to you, was wearing a mask.

I overheard the security guard by the entrance ask you, “Do you have a mask?” as per his job.

You responded, “I don’t wear them.” You turned to look at the display, and repeated, as if you felt this was a solid point, a mike-drop moment, “I don’t wear them.” Your expression was confident and determined.

The security guard did the long-suffering slow nod. He obviously knew that it was not worth pursuing, in your case. Either he is officially not supposed to press the issue, or he knows he will pay for it if he does. Being a person of colour, he would doubtless also prefer to avoid the kind of racist rants some white anti-maskers have been directing at other POCs in his position.

I was shopping in the same area, across the aisle from you. I was very tempted to go up to you and ask, “So, you don’t wear masks? Why not?” Because I’d always like to know the reasoning behind something that looks unreasonable to me. But I am shy/anti-confrontational enough – and was in enough of a hurry – that I didn’t.

You weren’t in the store very long. You chatted with the girl about whatever you were looking at, didn’t purchase anything or even come any further inside, then walked out.

Now I’m mulling it over and wondering what that conversation would have looked like. To try to understand you better, I looked up “why do people object to masks”.

One reason is mask anxiety. That is something I can understand – as a claustrophobe, I have twinges of it myself, especially when I wear a shield/mask combo. Anxiety should not be treated lightly when we’re discussing health. Asthma is also something people cite as a reason not to wear masks (although some asthma sufferers do wear them).

But I feel confident that your reason is not about anxiety or asthma. Your disregard for the hand sanitizer, as well as your demeanour, very much suggest that this is a statement for you… an issue of – what would we call it? Morality? Politics?

In this article from Global News, I’m reading that other reasons include:

  1. high levels of emotion, resulting in irrational thinking
  2. cultural differences, especially individualism vs. collectivism
  3. underestimating the seriousness of the threat
  4. resistance to change
  5. changing recommendations and misinformation
  6. a feeling of having freedoms violated

In terms of #1, we’ve been at this for many months. We are now in the second wave. Even if irrationality was part of this, I’d bet dollars to donuts that you consider yourself perfectly rational in your decision.

Maybe it’s #2? You’re your own person, and you’ll do what you want? I get that – I am also my own person, and I also do what I want. More on that later.

It seems likely that you have been lucky so far with #3 – underestimating the threat – in that you and your loved ones have not yet really suffered (medically) as a result of Covid-19. For me, it’s hard to feel nonchalant about protocols since my sister dealt with varying levels of Covid-19 symptoms for six full months, including exhaustion, dizziness, inability to smell/taste, insomnia, fever, and breathing issues.

As for #4, well… I think we’re ALL resistant to change in some way. None of us wants this. We don’t want to stop visiting relatives and friends. I doubt that “amass a lovely collection of cloth masks” was on anyone’s bucket list. Most people I know really miss hugging other people. And I’m sure this isn’t what humans mean by “be the change you wish to see in the world.” We didn’t ask to sign up for this… but now that we’re in it, change is inevitable.

cloth mask collection
Glorious, no? And this is just a sampling.

When it comes to #5, I know other local people who have come to the conclusion that because recommendations from medical professionals have changed over the months of learning about this brand-new virus, recommendations in general are not to be trusted.

To this I say, excuse me: medical professionals used to bleed people with leeches and fill cavities with mercury and give pregnant moms thalidomide and all kinds of terrible things. Thank goodness they learn things as they go, and revise the bad ideas. Thank goodness we have doctors, scientists, researchers, statisticians, pharmacologists, experts of all kinds paying very close attention to how this virus works. If we don’t learn, we don’t stand a chance.

Perhaps you have fallen prey to misinformation and/or disinformation. There certainly is plenty of that. Maybe you think you’re a severely outnumbered (in our city) crusader for the “truth.” If you have chosen to be guided in this way, I feel sure that there are other reasons underlying that.

Which leads us to #6, violation of freedoms. This one is FULL of facets.

Freedoms of… almost ALL HUMANS have been curtailed by this pandemic. What a crazy, mind-blowing thing, when you think about how far this influence goes. In many countries, people could not even leave their houses for a long time. Even here in Ontario, it felt so strange, so dystopian at first, when almost nothing was open, and we didn’t leave our homes except for groceries, and suddenly there was no toilet paper.

But funnily enough, it was regular folks cooperating with protocols that gave many people back their freedoms. Canada did well at flattening the curve during the first wave, which reinstated freedoms like eating at restaurants, shopping at the mall, playing at parks, and so on. It gave many people their businesses back. It gave me the freedom to come back to my teaching job in person, which I’m very grateful for.

So I guess wearing a mask is sort of a violation of freedom… but in my mind, it’s a small price to pay.

And look at that – it gave YOU the freedom to sashay into a store with no mask on, because the rest of us are deliberately protecting you.

You have probably had some negative feedback about your anti-mask stance. I’m sure you can’t be under any illusions about how you look to the mask-wearing public. You may have been accused of being ignorant or selfish, by someone looking for a reason for your behaviour – why else would you be so adamantly against this simple protective step?

Whatever your experiences have been, I have a different point to make.

I know that mask-wearing isn’t fun. Now that I’m back at school, I wear a mask and a face shield the whole time I’m teaching. My glasses are constantly fogging up. It’s hard for the kids to hear me. It’s generally kind of unpleasant.

It’s also not easy for the kids. Lots of them also have trouble making themselves heard through their masks. Distancing is very hard for elementary students; I remind them about it literally dozens of times a day. And the hand hygiene routines are never-ending.

But we are managing. Even the littlest students are wearing their masks – it’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking. They do their hygiene routines on their tiny hands and they are slowly getting used to staying farther from their friends than they instinctively would be. It’s not a situation anybody wants, but if the kids can do it… well.

The thing I’ve realized, in these past few weeks of school + second-wave Covid, is that there is power in these protocols. It feels strange to see case numbers shooting up, and at the same time see most folks going to work and school and other places. I mean, during the first wave, “stay home” was not fun, but at least it was a straightforward proposition. It made sense.

Now, it’s confusing. Do normal things, in completely not-normal ways. Every detail of life feels like a big decision. All day long, noticing and mitigating risk. I know I’m not alone in finding it exhausting.

I know everyone reacts differently to stress, and for some, rebellion is what makes you feel empowered. But for me, in this case, it’s the opposite.

Masking up and cleaning my hands makes me feel like I have some say in how things go, for myself and the people around me. Seeing other people doing the same soothes me, because I know we have the same goal: to get through this pandemic with the least damage to individuals and to the community. My mental health is better knowing I’m doing what I can to protect myself and everyone around me.

I’m my own person, and I do what I want. Right now, what I want is to set an example of giving a damn about people – those I know and love as well as those I don’t know. And even those who don’t give a damn about me.

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