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  • Writer's pictureRishika

Can't make me

surgical mask
If being asked to wear a mask offends you, a little self-examination may be in order.

So, I'm trying to understand this weird political debate we're having over the wearing of masks. Although I do understand that it is being fueled by bots on social media -- 50 percent or so of anti-mask tweets are bot-generated, according to one source -- there is nevertheless some legitimate discord in my neighborhood, with some residents loudly declaring that they'll do whatever they damn well please, which means no masks, because freedom.

What is that, exactly? It comes across as a weird mix of macho posturing and childlike kicking and screaming. Refusing to mask up is, like wearing a t-shirt with a raised middle finger, a visual demonstration that "you're not the boss of me."

As someone who raised kids, I know this posture well, and it's exhausting for all involved.

The legislative battle over requiring motorcycle helmets was similar, except that not wearing a helmet generally only endangers the rider. With masks, the choice you make literally affects the lives of everyone around you. Refuse one, and you could end up being guilty of manslaughter, whether you know it or not.

You OK with that?

If you're one of the many people who is infected but asymptomatic, you leave virus particles in your wake wherever you go, and there isn't enough hand sanitizer in the world to clean up after that germ cloud you're trailing like Pigpen in the comic strip "Peanuts."

The anti-maskers' main strategy seems to be telling others "just protect yourself and I'll do what I want." Sometimes they'll pontificate about strengthening the immune system or not believing what you read. But given what scientists (full disclosure: I believe them) know about the nature of the virus, its ability to infect and sicken seems to be dose-related. The more COVID-19 particles a person is exposed to, mask or no mask, the greater the likelihood of illness, and the greater the severity of that illness, which is why so many doctors have died. The only weapons we have are the ones that minimize the viral load you're exposed to. Even with a mask, the risk is never zero -- we can only suppress it.

Refuse a mask, and you ensure we all share the risk you think you take alone.

If you're one of the many people who is infected but asymptomatic, you leave virus particles in your wake wherever you go, and there isn't enough hand sanitizer in the world to clean up after that germ cloud you're trailing like Pigpen in the comic strip "Peanuts."

And if I, as a vulnerable and masked person, contact something you contaminated -- say, the shirt I wore that collected the virus particles floating in the ATM cubicle you just visited -- you may have just ended me. Maybe I'm just some elderly person you don't give a shit about because you think you'll never be me, or maybe I'm a young mother in chemo, or maybe I'm somebody's child awaiting a liver transplant.

You OK with that? Because freedom?

Refusing to mask comes across to me as 1) throwing punches at nothing, and 2) a wailing expression of powerlessness. I think it's a way for the ego to try to exert control in a situation where nothing is under control, because under "normal" circumstances we think we do have control over what happens to us (spoiler: we don't). But man, is it a phantom target. How hard is it, truly, to wear a mask? You're not being oppressed by The Man. You're being asked to help protect your fellow humans from death and disability. It's like being asked to signal before a left turn; it costs you virtually nothing and keeps others safe.

But deeper still, why is it so difficult to convince some people to care about others? In a twisted sort of way, mask refusal represents a form of egoic self-protection. As in: Maybe if I deny the virus the power to change my behavior, I won't have to confront my fear of it. Bad things only happen to other people, after all: people who deserve it, for being old and sick, for being some other color or political persuasion, or for being in any way vulnerable in the first place.

This is ego talking. This is not who you really are.

It's a sad measure of how much disconnection and anger one must feel to so passive-aggressively wish harm to others in this manner, because it smacks of a particularly antisocial retaliation. As an African proverb says, "A child not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth." When I see posts by people deriding the wearing of masks, I immediately wonder what dark hurts they are unconsciously expressing, and my heart goes out. I know that head space, that interpretive dance of dysfunction. As the child of a shame-driven family with a legacy of addiction, I spent years acting out my injuries with the people around me.

So my question to those who won't wear a mask is, can you explain why? What happened to you? What loss do you think you're avenging? Exactly what, and whom, are you trying to defend? Be kind to yourself and understand that antisocial behavior is usually an indication of something in us that wants to be addressed, and it may still be buried quite deep. Sitting in stillness and exploring the answers to those questions may reveal what is actually dictating your behavior, and that the thing you believe to be "freedom" is actually holding you hostage. And trust me, it's not the mask.

Namaste, Rishika


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