Governor Doug Burgum says we should not mask-shame
1. If you wear a mask, you're a hero.
2. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect.
3. Wearing a mask means you're smart.
4. Wearing a mask means you care about other people.
5. Mask-wearing is always acceptable. The opposite isn't true.
Division will happen, regardless of intention.
Last Saturday, I conducted data collection on my drive through town to the beach. How many people could I find wearing face masks? Since the new CDC advisory, my Instagram feed is filled with masked faces. On my 15-minute drive, I expected to see them everywhere.
En route to the ocean, I counted the whole way. A woman wearing a homemade fabric mask as she walked her dog. A man unloading a delivery truck, his face half-covered in a disposable mask. Twelve masked people in all. As I drove along, tallying numbers, I began to envision myself on patrol, like a small-town cop in an old movie. I smiled and relaxed behind the wheel. It pleased me to see folks doing their civic duty.
However, I quickly realized that for every person I saw masked, there were at least two who weren’t wearing them. A teenager walked out of the grocery store, his face fully visible beneath his baseball cap. An older man stood at his mailbox talking to a neighbor, six feet apart, but neither of them masked.
I understand that the CDC recommendation is an “advisory” and not an “order,” but didn’t their request make good sense? Why would anyone choose not to follow it?
As my car wove through town, what began as innocent observation quickly became a personal quest for righteousness. I wondered, Who are these people? Why don’t they care? I wanted to holler out the window, to ask these bare-faced folks if they understood they were putting everybody at risk. I could feel my frustration rise as I drove along. I’ve followed the stay-at-home orders to the letter since our governor handed them down. People in my community are sick; many are dying. To me, wearing a mask seems not just reasonable but necessary. Who would be so foolish? I wanted to know. Why can’t they just follow the rules? What kind of a Neanderthal thinks he can outwit a novel virus pandemic?
I know I’m not alone in this tendency to demonize another, to assume I know their intentions. As New York City, San Francisco and other areas of the country mandate mask-wearing, mask shaming is following in quick pursuit. However much we desire personal freedom, we don’t like it when other people break the rules. We quickly pass judgment on others, assuming the worst.
Since COVID-19 hit the news, I have viewed wearing a mask as synonymous with loving my neighbor. My position has been simple: stay home, save lives, and wear your mask. Christian love desires to protect the vulnerable, and certainly masks help do that. But all too easily I can watch protests on the news or simply drive through town and instead make masks the sole measure of personal righteousness. I look down my own masked nose and silently assess my neighbors’ character. I critique their intelligence, their political sensibilities, their empathy and love, even their spiritual depth. In the privacy of my car, the words of the Pharisee run through my head. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
Let's be clear that the science isn't perfect on mask wearing, the efficacy of certain types of masks, the transmission of the virus, the impact on long-term mask wearing by large populations, and the reality that more and more those who advocated them said it was about respecting others. That is, it is mostly symbolic.