Author’s note: This isn’t a typical curiouser & curiouser post, but I feel strongly that I need to share this because it’s something that’s really been weighing on me.
Let me start here: I absolutely believe in having differing opinions. After all, that’s what makes us human (not to mention interesting). Lots of things about the way I choose to live my life are different from the way you choose to live yours, and there’s so much beauty in those differences. So please, believe me when I say I’m a huge proponent of different mindsets and beliefs, of productive debate, and of truly listening to one another and learning from each other in the process.
Having said that, there’s a conversation out in the world today — one about “differences in opinion” — that leaves me feeling unsettled. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
“Why are we all so divided right now? It shouldn’t matter whether I choose to wear a mask in public or not, or whether I vote Democrat or Republican this election. We’re all so quick to get angry at one another for different beliefs, but why can’t we just agree to disagree?”
Here’s why I don’t think we can “agree to disagree” in these two specific cases:
Because these two examples — the way we are behaving in response to COVID-19 and our political activity at the polls this November — are not about differences in belief. These are about right and wrong, and about doing what’s best for ourselves AND for our fellow Americans.
Let’s start with the political side of things.
This isn’t an election like the one, say, when McCain ran against Obama. In that election, we saw two smart, qualified, GOOD men who wanted to make positive change and bring strong leadership to their country. True, they had differing tactics — and differing beliefs — but ultimately they had good intentions and wanted to help Americans as best they could. I may have disagreed with some of the things McCain supported or stood for (not to mention his VP pick), but I absolutely understood when people told me they voted for him. Agree to disagree = check.
Let’s contrast that election with the one coming up this fall.
In this election, we as a country are choosing between a measured, qualified leader and an unequivocally BAD PERSON who unabashedly hates many groups of people — women and minorities included — and is out for his own power and perceived glory at any cost. This is NOT a typical “Republican versus Democrat” election. This is our chance as a nation to vote out the bad and usher in a return to better. Whether or not you agree with Biden isn’t really the question here. This is about whether or not you want to make America a more hopeful, kind, welcoming, equal opportunity, less-of-a-worldwide-laughingstock kind of place. After this election we can (hopefully) go back to a typical “agree to disagree” rhetoric around politics, but this year is not about that. Supporting Trump is supporting hate and racism and sexism and mistrust in science and so many other things we need to work to leave behind us as a country. It just is.
Okay, now let’s talk COVID-19.
I’ve heard people use the argument that not wearing a mask in public is similar to choosing not vaccinate your child. That argument goes something like, “Why should YOU be offended if I choose not to vaccinate MY child? You still have the right to vaccinate yours. Similarly, why are you up in arms about ME not wearing a mask? YOU are still welcome to wear one.”
But here’s why that metaphor falls on its face: Because in the case of wearing a mask, it’s about protecting OTHERS, and not about protecting yourself. So to rewrite that same metaphor, it would be more like me actively keeping YOUR child from being vaccinated while choosing to vaccinate my own.
We are, of course, continuing to learn more about COVID-19, and it’s still very up in the air as far as when and how our country will be able to come out on the other side of this pandemic. But what we DO know is that it’s very possible to be a carrier of the disease before or without having any symptoms, and it’s easy to spread the virus through respiratory droplets from talking, laughing, coughing, sneezing, etc. We also know that wearing a mask keeps those respiratory droplets from finding their way to other people — or onto things other people will touch — therefore helping to control the spread of COVID-19.
(Side note: Please watch this PBS News Hour video outlining how dangerous it is that the CDC is being politicized by Trump and his supporters — for the first time in history, I might add.)
I struggle so much to understand the thinking behind not wearing a mask. This is something we’re doing for others — not for ourselves. It’s helping to keep our neighbors safe. Is it a little uncomfortable and sometimes annoying? Sure it is! Does that slight discomfort and annoyance outweigh the importance of wearing one? Absolutely not.
Is it “your right” as an American not to wear a mask? I mean…I guess so? But if you feel this way, I’m so curious as to how you think this is such a gross infringement of your rights. We’re doing this so we as a nation stay as healthy as possible. So fewer of us become very ill or die. Why is doing something incredibly easy — a small sacrifice, perhaps, if it helps to think about it that way — now about “your rights” instead of concern for those around you? This makes me incredibly sad.
I offer up this as a metaphor for the masks:
Back when smoking was common, we first learned that smoking was bad for the health of the individual who smoked. So then it became a choice each person could make: whether or not to smoke knowing its potential effects. But then, we learned that smoking was also bad for the people AROUND the smoker. That changed the game. No longer was it about each individual making choices for his or her own health. Now it was about the health of each smoker’s family, co-workers, people they dined near or traveled with, etc.
And eventually, in response to that knowledge about secondhand smoke, we as a country started making changes. We began restricting smoking to certain sections in restaurants, to designated areas in airports. Slowly, smoking started to be banned from restaurants in ANY capacity, from office buildings, from retail establishments. Sure, you can still smoke in America today, but it’s far less convenient — and we understand and appreciate the reason behind these limitations.
Why can’t the same mindset be applied to masks? (Not to mention the fact that wearing a mask is a much easier change in behavior than asking a smoker to not smoke in any public place.) We are doing this to help others. To keep the people around us healthy and safe.
So yes, in this case wearing a mask is the right thing to do.
Agree to disagree? In many cases, yes. But not when it comes to Trump. Not when it comes to keeping our neighbors safe from COVID-19. (Also not when it comes to global warming, but that’s a topic for another post…😉)