Face Masks: Freedom Vs. Responsibility
COVID-19 has changed the world in ways that our generation has never experienced. In the United States, wearing masks and social distancing is an uncomfortable change. Unfortunately, most changes require decisions that can bring out the worst in people. America has always had to make choices between freedom and responsibility. Our country stands for freedom. People have fought and died for it. Yet, America also understands the need for responsibility. It is the way we protect our citizens. That’s why most controversial issues revolve around those two important concepts. Evaluating the line between freedom and responsibility is never easy.
Because wearing masks is so new in the United States, we have very little data available. However, recent statistics suggest that masks are effective in protecting us against COVID-19.
In an attempt to reduce the risk of infection, Mass General Brigham Hospital did a study. The hospital mandated masks to determine its effects on their healthcare workers. As a result of the mandate, they saw a considerable decrease in the spread of the Coronavirus. This knowledge implies to me that during COVID-19, responsibility should take precedence. Working together, we can keep this virus from infecting more people.
I miss hugging my adult children. Although we still float the river or walk in the park, walking six feet apart and wearing masks when we visit isn’t the same. Because my husband and I are at-risk, social distancing has been a must.
One day while shopping at Walmart, a young man came in without a mask. Curiosity got the best of me, and I asked why he wasn’t wearing one.
- He replied, “I’m not worried about the Coronavirus. I’ll be fine. I’m young and healthy.”
What he said was true. He seemed young and healthy, and statistics show that he’d most likely live if he got the virus.
Americans want to be free, but with freedom comes responsibility. To enforce responsibility, we have laws to keep others safe. Parents stop a baby from exploring the stairs to protect the child. When one’s freedom encroaches the public’s well-being, responsibility takes over. That’s why, for example, most public places don’t allow smoking.
- It was clear he wanted to explain. “I have to wear a mask at work. I don’t want to wear one in public, too.”
I didn’t blame him for not wanting to wear a mask. Certainly, masks are hot and make it harder to breathe. In our town, there is no law saying he has to wear one in public. It saddened me he didn’t see beyond himself. He wasn’t in his house or his car anymore. In public, his freedom not to wear a mask was a risk to those around him.
I’d run into a similar thing years ago. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, a young couple brought a toddler to church. Clothed in a turtleneck and jeans, the child went to Sunday School and laid her head down on the table. No one noticed that she had chicken-pox until later, when she couldn’t stop scratching. There were some pretty angry parents and elderly folks there that day. Our family had a very vulnerable relative. Realizing that if we exposed her, she could die, we had to cancel our Thanksgiving plans.
Some people make choices like this because they can’t see beyond themselves. Others make them because they don’t care. In the end, the result is the same. Their actions affect others. Children learn to share. Adults learn to put work before play. Sometimes, responsibility must trump personal freedom.
One positive example of this came from a small beauty salon. Two Missouri Great Clips stylists tested positive for COVID-19. They realized they had potentially exposed 140 customers and six co-workers. Of those exposed, none tested positive for the virus. They attributed this success to required masks and social distancing. Their responsibility and vigilance most likely saved many people from being another statistic.
- The next thing that came out of the young man’s mouth shocked me. He shrugged as he said, “We should let the virus run its course. The Coronavirus is killing off the old and sickly people. They’re using up our social security, anyway.”
I raised my eyebrows. I’m not the youngest woman on the block.
- He looked mortified. “Oh, I don’t mean you. I don’t want you to get sick.”
He was defining natural selection: those best suited for a situation will survive. The very idea goes against compassion and ethics. Throughout history, people showed apathy toward those they devalued. People tend to devalue others over age, race, gender, appearance, intelligence, and health. We only need to go back to the 1940s for a prime example. Hitler enumerated the groups he deemed unworthy, undesirable, and weak. He prepared a kill list. We know that Hitler slaughtered millions of Jews. But do people know that he first killed hundreds of thousands of the handicapped?
Civilized people take care of each other. I’ve worked with mentally handicapped adults, and we treated them with respect because we valued them. In America, soldiers are taught that no soldier should be left behind. Teachers are taught that no child should be left behind. All men are created equal isn’t just something to say. It’s something to live by.
A mask is the only weapon we have against the Coronavirus. It helps protect medical personnel and those at risk. Wearing a mask is our opportunity to choose responsibility over freedom. It allows us to show others we regard them as valuable human beings.
Keeping others safe involves sacrifice. In 2011, firefighters ran into the Twin Towers. They risked their lives to save others. In 2020, medical professionals risk their lives to keep us safe. All they ask is we wear a mask—what a simple way to sacrifice.