On Wearing Masks

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 was 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 reasons why people might choose not to wear face coverings, but remaining calm when we disagree is more likely to bring about understanding. 

Reasons for choosing NOT to wear a mask: 

  • Serious claustrophobia, impairing the ability to function. 
  • Traumatizing past experiences regarding the covering of the face.
  • Don’t believe that masks are a solution in every public situation such as being in the open air and socially distanced. 

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.

Reasons or beliefs for choosing to wear a mask:

  • Medical evidence indicates that properly wearing a mask helps protect others and is personally protective as well--a win-win. 
  • Wearing a mask is a way of showing gratitude for the effort and costs incurred by others to do what no one enjoys doing -- wearing a mask.

Acting Respectfully

The practical etiquette question is, "How can I be more recognizably respectful to others?"

When wearing a mask:

  • Avoid scolding or shaming others who aren't wearing a mask.  Most business now require masks, and it is up to the business to correct what is not allowed.
  • If someone without a mask stands too close, simply step back.

When not wearing a mask:

  • Be mindful that others will probably be uncomfortable that you aren't wearing a mask. 
  • Observe a business' or public requirement to wear a mask from start to finish while inside the store or where rules have been posted. 

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 unless stated rules are in place, responds that when he is criticized for being mask-less in the open air, he always says, "Thank you," means it, and goes on his way.  

It's difficult to feel resentful when you are wishing someone well.  Surely, avoiding resentment is good for your health and being respectful of others is always a top priority.

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