I sympathise with Sharon Stone - but this is why face mask shaming isn't working

The sight of someone not following the rules may bring up feelings of irritation and resentment, but it is important to remember that we do not know the personal circumstances of everyone

Amy Nickell@AmyNicks_
Monday 17 August 2020 18:34
Trump cheered by golf club guests as he says they don't have to wear masks

On the day mandatory mask wearing was introduced, I was filling up my car with petrol. I turned to walk into the garage to pay, when a voice blared out the tannoy: “Pump number seven, put on your mask”. I was horrified. I’d simply forgotten. I sheepishly shuffled to the front of the queue, grabbed a mask from the shelf, put it on, and paid.

Since this incident, I would love to say that I have diligently remembered my mask, but I have ended up in Greggs with a sports sock around my mouth, and later in McDonald’s with a napkin across my face, while frantically searching to buy another mask, having forgotten yet again. What I hope this demonstrates is that I am not a mask saint. In fact, I struggle to remember the new rules and put them into action.

Although these were just cases of personal forgetfulness, directly shaming those who do not wear masks is not a helpful way to approach these situations. At first glance, the sight of someone not following the rules may bring up feelings of irritation and resentment, but it is important to remember that we do not know the personal circumstances of those who attend shops and public spaces without masks. Mental and physical health conditions allow certain members of society to be exempt from the laws in place, and a passing comment or judgment is not of any benefit.

The problem lies in a different attitude I have observed in the spaces I frequent. The statement non-wearers. Those who don’t wear their masks with pride. They think they know better than the chief medical officer, and flout the rules with glee, as if they’ve got one up on the rest of us, the sheep of society. It’s this I have a problem with.

The use and purpose of a mask is to benefit the majority. It’s an act for the many, rather than the few, and perhaps this could be why this law is not being respected across large swathes of our population. Selfishness is endemic in our modern society, and mask-boycotting is another symptom of a sickness that runs deeper than the virus.

I may well be fine, but the person next to me in that petrol station may be living with a partner currently undergoing chemotherapy. The lady queuing for steak bakes might be nursing an immunosuppressed child at home.

However much we argue the politics of mask wearing, the facts remain. A perfectly healthy adult could be carrying the virus and pass it on with results that could be potentially be fatal. Like Sharon Stone’s sister, who caught the virus from a carrier in her local pharmacy, and is now fighting for her life. The mask contains and prevents the illness spreading to vulnerable people. It’s that simple.

And if that fails you, then what about the reality that communities will go back into lockdown if rates rise again. With a second lockdown, you may not be ‘so happy’ to be back in the gym, or the pub. Rather, you’ll find yourself locked up in your house clamouring for an Ocado delivery slot all over again. The definition of insanity, of course, is making the same mistake repeatedly and expecting different results.

Self-centeredness makes society sicker. Excluding others, in exchange for self-serving, equals the conflict that currently fills our social media feeds.

If we all think solely for our own gain, we can’t share. And if we can’t share, we can’t enjoy what we have. There are few things in life that we enjoy more in isolation than with company. How much enjoyment can we really have on our own? True joy involves others, and heightens our personal experiences. Looking at things this way quickly demonstrates that what’s best for everyone is also what’s best for you.

Would you rather go out for a meal with a friend, or go for the same meal by yourself twice? Unfortunately, too many people would rather serve themselves double helpings, rather than share the experience. And this instant selfish gratification leads to long term loneliness and an increasingly disconnected society with spiking mental health rates.

On the flip side, every time you give to someone else, you are also giving the gift of generosity to yourself. This generates a positive feeling that outweighs ‘it’s mine, not yours’. The positive reward fuels your long-term happiness. Collective good is good for everyone, give it a go and you might just get a surprise.

Complain if wearing a mask is uncomfortable and ruins your lipstick, get annoyed when you end up breathing in the fabric. But as this pandemic continues, you are likely to ruin more than your make-up without one.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments