What Does A Mask Say?

Content Warning: Pandemic Talk

There’s a lockdown warning in my area right now. That sucks, I’m bummed about it, I thought we had contained but I know the nature of containment is not that it never happens here, but that when it does happen we immediately respond to it, curtail its spread and that means I’m going to spend two weeks taking an even higher level of care than I already did.

Mask wearing is not very common in my area. I’ve been masked in public since the first week of March, so to me it’s just very normal. But people around me so rarely have them; so rarely respect distance; so rarely seem to get it. What’s even weirder for me is when I visibly do things like wipe down my shopping cart handle, or wash my hands going into a supermarket, I get someone inevitably look at me, then sheepishly go to do the same thing when I’m done. People realising that I stand still in the aisle, because I’m waiting for someone else to move, so I don’t have to push past anyone. There are people who see me behaving by the rules of best practice, and they show they know those rules too.

It’s strange.

I’ve been proactive on mask wearing for a couple of reasons. One of the bigger ones is just because it’s a public health good. I think mask wearing would be a good thing to normalise, so that if this pandemic experience ever leaves us, it’ll leave us with a world where when you have a cold or a flu, you get on the bus wearing your mask because you don’t want people to get the germs you have, even if you personally can handle going to the store thanks to some ibuprofen or whatever.

And yet, even know, people don’t wear the mask, because, they claim, they don’t care if they get sick. And they repeat this, even if you explain that’s not what the mask is meant to do. You’ll often get this fork of rhetoric, then. It goes in two directions but they both build out of the same basic problem of not getting why we wear masks.

Direction 1: If it doesn’t protect me, why should I wear it? This is really embarrassing because the root of it is the question of like, rudimentary social awareness. It’s a lack of empathy, sure, it’s a selfishness – it’s the willingness to put the self at risk, all that stuff that I see tied to things like phone use while driving or drink driving, people just flat out failing to appreciate the impact they can have on others. It’s very juvenile and that’s frustrating.

Direction 2: If it didn’t protect me, why would they tell me to wear it? This is the one that really messes with my head, because the undercurrent implied here is that there’s no reason you’d be asked to do something for someone else’s benefit. Yes, it’s the same juvenile mindset, of not being able to see the consequences for others, but it’s sillier, because it imagines the government as being in the position to only instruct them on behaviour that matters to them. It’s not just ‘I got mine,’ it’s ‘surely everyone, even the literal government, exists, to ‘got mine.’

But people change their behaviour because they don’t want someone who does take it seriously to make a fuss. Which means my mask gives me this strange ability to exert social pressure while not saying anything

Wear a fucking mask.

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