Respecting the Right to Choose to Wear - or Not Wear - a Mask

Wearing a Mask

During the COVID-19 pandemic we are witnessing the polarization of ideas and attitudes regarding how best to deal with it.  Wearing masks is a prime example of the source of many news-making disagreements.  

But polarization can serve as an opportunity to re-evaluate our own judgments and behaviors.  Never have we needed etiquette and empathy more.

A Search for Empathy

There are many reasons why people choose to wear or not wear face coverings, but remaining calm when we disagree is more likely to bring about understanding. 

Reasons/beliefs for choosing to wear a mask:

  • Medical evidence strongly suggests that wearing a mask is personally protective and helps protect others.
  • A person or family member is health-compromised and fearful for well-being.
  • A person might unknowingly have the virus and believes it's proper to wear a mask, just in case.
  • Wearing a mask is a way of showing gratitude for the effort and costs incurred by businesses in implementing sanitization procedures, clerk mask-wearing and social distancing compliances.

Reasons/beliefs for choosing not to wear a mask: 

  • Have serious claustrophobia, impairing the ability to function. 
  • Have had traumatizing past experiences regarding the covering of the face.
  • Have had the virus and do not consider themselves a danger to others.
  • Don’t believe that masks are a solution in every public situation such as being in the open air. 

One of the primary principles of etiquette is to be respectful and considerate of another's right to choose what he believes best for himself, though we might not agree that the choice is wise.

Acting Respectfully

Mask-wearing or not, the practical etiquette question is, "How can I be more recognizably respectful to others?"

For non-wearers:

  • Limit small talk in public as much as possible, being mindful that others may be uncomfortable that you aren't wearing a mask. 
  • Avoid behavior that might appear to be flaunting your choice.
  • Observe a business' requirement to wear a mask from start to finish while inside the store. 

For mask wearers:

  • Avoid scolding or shaming others.
  • If someone  without a mask stands too close, simply step back.
  • If a person without a mask approaches to speak to you, point to your mask and say, “Sorry, too difficult to speak,” or just "Sorry."

When people are fearful of being harmed by what they view as others’ disregard, or fear their right to choose is being compromised, they feel resentment.  But guessing the motives of the behavior of others is counter-productive. 

A good friend of mine has the secret to overcoming her harsh feelings of those who aren’t wearing a mask.  When she encounters such a person, she smiles under her mask and says to herself, “May you be safe.  May you be well.”  This helps her stave off resentment.

Another close friend who doesn't choose to wear a mask for reasons he believes valid, doesn't like being told he should wear one.  However, his response is to say or think, "Thank you. Good thoughts." 

It's difficult to feel resentful when you are wishing someone well.  Surely, avoiding resentment is good for your health.



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