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Of Masks and Men. (And Women. And Bunnyrabbits. And…)

February 26, 2022

I cannot help but think that we have lost something somewhere along the line. The recent studies have further shown that there is room to doubt whether masking mandates were really necessary, whether they were helpful, or whether they were all hype. There is also some room to think that they may have done some good. I’m not that interested in commenting on either. But at some point we let ourselves be turned against each other over them. We lost the sight of something that we knew, that I was reminded of today, that was said at the funeral of a man who served our country heroically back in the Korean War; a man who had quietly and lovingly served his neighbor ever sense – down to his funeral, today.

He believed that neighbors, good neighbors, were there to help each other out. And he did so.

And regardless of which side of what fence you found yourself on through this pandemic, we can’t escape the fact that the pandemic used a lot of rhetoric and structured a lot of arguments that were set up to turn us against each other. At some points, if some order was handed down from some state government or another, it wasn’t long before we heard (whether in rumor or in fact) that a hotline was being set up so that people could report their nonconforming neighbors to the authorities. This wasn’t about whether or not there neighbors were burning their houses down, or were suspected of running a crack house, or look like they were bank robbers. This is about whether or not they were conforming to an arguable mask mandate. I don’t want to argue about the validity of those mandates, but I can see that if ever something was set up to try and leverage people against each other, these sort of tactics were definitely it.

In fact, the whole masking argument and policy – whether or not it was useful is irrelevant – was by nature the sort of thing that would set us against each other. Putting on a mask wasn’t a personal choice that you could opt to do in order to keep yourself safe, and we could ask each other to respect one another if we chose to wear a mask or not. It was not left as a matter of personal liberty. No, the rhetoric was far more of an unhelpful sort than that.

The rhetoric was that you put on a mask in order to prevent yourself from being a danger to someone else. That your mask protected someone else. From there, the rhetoric could easily be – and was easily – spun, to the effect that “if you don’t wear your mask, you don’t care about me. Don’t you care about me? I can’t believe how careless and how thoughtless and how self-absorbed you are. You must not care about anyone.”

And it set up those who conformed as having the ability to beat down and shame those who do not believe that the mandate was legitimately given, or that it was actually useful, or that it belonged in a nation of sovereign citizens. And it set up the non-conforming to resent the self-righteousness of those who conformed. What was the result?

One side of the fence felt like they were being pushed and guilted into doing something that they felt was either unhelpful, or ridiculous, or was a needless sign of conformity. The other side of the fence felt like the neighbors that they had known and lived around clearly didn’t care about public health, or that they were selfishly not wanting to follow what seems to be a reasonable requirement from those in power, and that they evidently “didn’t care too terribly much about me personally, because I’m wearing my mask for them; why won’t they do likewise for me?”

And now we are left with the big question: what will be the legacy of all this?

Time alone will probably be what tells us.

Nevertheless, as we find ourselves returning to semi normal, we need to ask what scars we will continue to pick at, and what ones we will encourage to heal.

Are good neighbors there to help each other out?

On the one side, even if we thought that the propaganda was hyperbole and shrill, couldn’t we have helped our neighbor out by helping him keep his peace of mind little bit easier, by bending more willingly and wearing a mask more cheerfully? Or at all?

On the other side, even if we were convinced that this was the only way to prevent the virus from coming through and killing untold millions, and even if we were legitimately concerned that this mask stood between us and certain death and ruin, could we not have kept the perspective and the responsibility as citizens to see where some of this was being driven by hyperbole and propaganda? That what was offered as entirely certain and settled as a question, was not, in fact, nearly as well supported?

Could we not all have extended some grace in realizing that there is probably some room for difference of opinion here? Could we not have extended grace towards those who felt differently than us, and assume that they were not people of ill will, or have bad intentions? Could we have at least remembered that they have been good neighbors who have helped us and cared for us in the past, and likely would again?

I will not lay the blame at anyone’s feet, but I will point to the fact that a lot of us listened to a lot of different voices, which pushed us to emotionally make decisions that our experiences have shown aren’t necessarily that helpful, or that certain. And we have been willing to follow those voices – all too often – in thinking ill of, and turning against those people around us who we have lived with, and helped out, and been helped by, and have made a civil society with. And at some point we need to walk the hyperbole and the mob mentality and the transferred emotionalism and a whole lot of other hurt and hard feelings that we were given to feel towards each other – we need to walk all that back.

We need to repent deeply, in our hearts. We need to turn to the One who has saved us, who loves us more than life itself, and who has called us not to be turned against our neighbor, but to love and to serve our neighbor, instead.

I do not know how we will best heal up – if at all – from the last long stretch of months. But it will come, if at all, through repentance, and forgiveness, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit of God to help us find the grace to be good neighbors who care about each other and who are there to help each other out.