OPINION: Just wear the mask

Entitled North American mentality getting in the way of safety measure

By Steve Smyth

Like many past societal changes, the practice of wearing a mask, whether medical or homemade, has been controversial amongst a small number of people.

Let’s be honest, there are people out there who enjoy tilting at windmills no matter what the cause. In the sixties, it was seatbelt use. Feeling that the government didn’t have the right to tell them what to do, there were people who took it upon themselves to cut the seat belts out of cars once they became standard equipment. One supposes a large segment of these people were the same ones for whom wearing condoms in the 80s and the initial years of the AIDS crisis was an infringement on their rights.

There are people for whom saying no and being contrary is part of their life. Happily, most Canadians are law abiding, societally conscious people who think and behave as part of a civilized society. Wearing of medical masks is more prevalent in a lot of predominantly Asian cultures. This doesn’t mean that they are brow-beaten by a despotic government eager to take away their rights and privileges. Quite the contrary, Japanese culture, for one, embraces wearing masks. Not because they are forced to but because in the words of a popular Japanese TV host, “because it’s safe, and we don’t want to put anyone else in harms way.”

While the Japanese have worn masks for varying reasons dating back to the 15th century, it only became widespread in China during the 2003 SARS epidemic (which, by the way, killed exactly zero Japanese people). Prompted by the onset of industrial pollution and a fear of spreading disease, Chinese society has embraced the mask as a form of cultural and medical necessity.

Contrast these responses with daily Facebook posts of North American, self-centered, morally superior “Karens and Kevins” screaming, ranting and physically assaulting people over being requested to protect not themselves, but other people. “I know my rights” screams one nasty episode caught on video, screaming “I don’t care about you”. Some cultures are based on being part of a caring, compassionate society while others are based on what’s good for me, and only me.

In North America, people have come up with all sorts of reasons and conspiracy theories on why not to wear a mask when social distancing cannot be assured. Absurd theories on why recycled air in a mask is dangerous (all disproved), why it will reduce the amount of oxygen to the brain (it won’t) and other even less intelligent excuses are trotted out as a feeble defense. The Canadian Thoracic Society recently issued a statement similarly claiming there’s no evidence that wearing a mask will exacerbate an underlying lung condition

I have a few masks that were whipped up by my very talented wife in her sewing room. Do I enjoy wearing one? Absolutely not. Most are somewhat uncomfortable and tend to fog up my glasses and make my face sweat. However, the point is quite simple, unless it’s a N95, properly fitted medical grade mask, you don’t wear a mask to protect you. You wear them for the same reasons our medical personnel do, and that is to protect everyone else. Its good medical policy based on science and it’s part of being part of a caring society that is concerned about each other and not just about themselves.

So, the next time you are asked to wear a mask, whether it’s shopping, on transit or flying commercial, stop complaining.

It’s not always about you. And just wear the mask.

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