TL/DR: The issue of wearing masks is not a matter of the head but of the heart.
What if the ongoing debates about masks aren’t about individual freedoms? What if they have more to do with the human desire to escape shame and powerlessness? Think about it. What does a mask signify? It’s a symbol of vulnerability. It signals to ourselves and others that we have no control over life. A mask tells a story of sickness and frailty and how humans are, well, human.
What do most people want to be free from? Being controlled? I’m suggesting that we all want to be free from emotional distress. And a sense of control is a sure fire way to escape the distress of being powerless.
Life has grooves in it. If you spend your life running from the truth of human weakness, you will follow that groove. You will brandish a firearm in a Walmart to avoid wearing a mask. Why? Because of your desire to assert your freedom of decision? No. Not to the same extent that you desire freedom from your feelings. Shame, especially toxic shame, is unbearable to most people. We will go to great lengths to escape its gravitational pull and follow the groove.
A Big Problem
And here’s the real problem: you can’t motivate people who run from the shame of human limitations by using shame. Shaming such a person only triggers an “attack others” response.
“Hey! What’s wrong with you? Put on a mask!” will not result in a change of heart or behavior.
“Hey, I know this may sound silly, but I’m afraid for my safety and the safety of others since you’re not wearing a mask. Would it be possible for you to consider wearing one?” Prepare for a “No” from that person. But you will contribute to addressing this person’s heart from your own heart.
Of course, if you are enforcing a policy, then you will need to say it in a different way. “Hey, I know this may sound crazy but here at this store, we’re all very scared over this virus. You know, I’m scared about my mom and grandmother getting sick. So, we’ve put a boundary in place. We’re asking everyone to wear a mask. Is that something you can do, please?” You will have to respond to the “No” response in a different way. You will also need to prepare for a desperate attempt to escape the cascade of shame and other emotions. But you can appeal to this person’s heart from your own heart. And you will not dehumanize the person in this interaction. You also call them to respond to the truth of your heart first. Then you move toward enforcement of a policy or boundary.
When we speak the truth of our hearts to other human hearts, it isn’t weakness or political correctness. It’s courage expressed in care. You can’t control people. You can’t fix people. But you can speak the truth of your heart to theirs with a hope that this person will respond.
A True Solution
Humility is the key – knowing how God made us. We are the image-bearers of God but not god. We are needy, dependent creatures not invulnerable self-providers. Jesus shows us the way in Matthew 5. We can be poor in spirit. We can be mourners who are humble, needy, and merciful. We can be peacemakers. We can be how God made us. Want to know the irony? When we wear a real mask, we reject the false mask of invulnerability. Wearing masks in public is a sign and symbol of acceptance of the way things are and hope for change. Wearing masks in real life is not saying “Yes” to being controlled, it’s saying “Yes” to how we are made.