Who was that unmasked man?

By George Stahl

The signs are everywhere: “Mask Required to Enter,” “Face Coverings Required” and “Either Mask or Face shield Required for Entry.”

Do you think that maybe the key word there is ‘Required’? According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, that word means “necessary according to the rules, or for a particular purpose.” Pretty clear? In this case, the necessary thing here to follow the rules is the wearing of a mask, and the purpose for the mask is entry into a particular place.

In looking around when we go anywhere nowadays, that requirement seems to be widely understood, right? Unfortunately, no. Count how many times in the last week have you gone somewhere in public and have seen at least one person with a naked face? Depending on where you live, you may have to use almost all the fingers on one hand to recall what you saw.

Now, when you saw that one person without a mask, what did you do?
“Do?” you ask. “Why should I have done anything?” Well, whether you knew it or not, at that time when you saw the person not following the necessity of the rule, you had a choice to make. You could have — and maybe you did — gone up to him, within six feet of his exposed lips, and asked him to put on a mask; politely, of course.

“Excuse me sir. If you do not care for the safety of yourself, well, that’s your business. But when you jeopardize the safety of me and the others in here, then that’s my business. Could you please read the sign at the door of the store and kindly put on a mask or face covering? It would be greatly appreciated, I’m sure. Thank you.”

Before you chose to approach the situation that way, you considered the reaction from the man and decided to err on the side of caution, so you watched him as he progressed through the line and no one else approached him either. You may have even felt better about making a non-action decision when the store manager approached the man and reminded him of the mask policy. Needless to say, that confrontation did not go well, and the man was asked to leave.

We have been introduced to a very new society. As the mantra has been from the start of the COVID-19 era, “We are all in this together,” starts to wear thin, so do people’s nerves. We do not want to see this new social structure as the new norm. We want all of this to go away and for things to be as they were before coronavirus. Of course we do. Realistically, that’s most likely not going to happen anytime soon.

So then what do we do? We wear the mask. I know that sounds so simple, right? They go on easy, they come off easy (unless the ear straps get tangled in the arms of your glasses, which can be a little frustrating), and for the most part they are not on our face for that long. Working out at the gym or wearing them all day at work is challenging, but not impossible.

Talking through them and understanding what someone is saying is difficult at times too — like wearing one in the grocery store, post office or bank. But just think back a few years: When Jesse and his gang went into a bank, most people had no problem understanding why they were there when they talked through their masks. It can be done.

If we want this to go away, if we want things to be as they were B.C. (Before COVID), we have to be careful not to allow too many things to change and to get out of hand. If something goes too far, it eventually gets past the point of no return. Something that seems to be on the verge of going past that point now is the way we are treating one another.

It’s called civility — the act of being civil. Some of us, unfortunately, are no longer practicing that art.

Remember your parents drilling into you the idea of saying “thank you,” “please,” “you’re welcome” and all those other things once called manners? Complying to the necessities of the rules is part of that civility. Chivalry is opening a door for someone, holding a chair out for them or saying “Hello” when you see them walk by. Civility is saying “Thank you” to that person.

Historians tell us that a society or civilization will usually see a drastic change by the 250-year mark of its existence. That civilization will either survive that world-changing series of events, or it will collapse. If that is true, the United States is only six years away from that mark. What will we see, where will we be at the 251-year milestone? That’s pretty much up to us, now. Are we prepared to do what is required, or do we want to complain all the time? Collapse or survive?

This one’s for you, Tom.

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