I work as a hostess at a restaurant part-time. It’s an easy, pleasant work environment mostly, and I’m fortunate to have a job right now, considering how the pandemic has spiked the unemployment rate across the U.S.
But sometimes, I really hate working there.
It’s not got anything to do with the restaurant or even the job itself. I’m fine with greeting customers, bussing tables, and even mopping the floors after closing. But I’ve dealt with more than a few customers who refuse to wear their masks, and even snap at me for asking them to.
I’m not asking rudely, or anything like that (I do want to keep my job, after all). But even just a polite, “could you please make sure your mask is above your nose and mouth,” or a “please be sure to wear a mask before you come in,” have caused dirty looks, snide remarks, and even a middle finger to be thrown my way.
I understand that mask-wearing has become a politicized issue, although it really shouldn’t be. Masks are still one of the CDC’s top recommendations for fighting COVID-19, and have been proven to be effective in preventing further spread of the virus. I feel that refusing to wear a mask in public is disrespectful to others in public spaces, especially considering that once someone has the virus, it’s incredibly easy to pass on to others who share living spaces with them, such as family and friends.
When you refuse to wear a mask, you’re threatening not only another person, but that person’s loved ones. So all of this begs the question—why refuse to wear a mask at all? And why do so many people feel so passionately about it?
The Selfishness of Americans
I’ll begin by acknowledging that mask-wearing is split down party lines in American culture, with many anti-maskers (the people who dislike wearing masks) leaning more conservative, and those endorsing it typically being more liberal.
However, this split doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. Of course, there was President Trump’s rhetoric at the beginning of the pandemic that encouraged his supporters to refuse masks, but none of it was backed by scientific evidence. Furthermore, he was spotted wearing a mask multiple times in public before he left office. This inconsistency would logically lead to, at the very most, unsurety about a mask’s effectiveness. It certainly wouldn’t lead to the vitriolic hate that many people hold for masks.
It’s worth noting that this hatred of masks seems to mostly be an American phenomenon. In developed countries, the U.S. has one of the lowest percentages of adults who wear masks, and a large portion of anti-maskers have been very vocal on social media platforms. They believe that mandating citizens to wear masks is an infringement on personal liberties. “My body, my choice,” is a slogan adopted by several anti-maskers—somewhat ironic, when you consider that these same people are most likely fighting against women’s reproductive rights.
The phenomenon of the anti-mask movement is a complex issue that can’t be attributed to any single factor. In fact, speculation behind the psychology of it has sparked many interesting articles and debates. Still, I’d like to pose the idea here that anti-masking is somewhat rooted in American selfishness.
I could go on and on about the downfalls and follies of capitalism, but the main thing that I dislike about it the most is that it prioritizes individual wealth and success over the community in a poor imitation of a laissez-faire system. Therefore, while capitalism is inherently an economic and political system, the widespread effect that it’s had on American society cannot be overlooked. Capitalism also warped the idea of the American Dream to be more consumer-capitalist motivated, and has thus defined Americans’ idea of what success looks like.
I believe that capitalism has enabled selfishness to become a real American value. As a result, many people today are more focused on what governmental policies and mandates mean for them, instead of the community. And with something as damaging and intrinsically communal as a pandemic, it makes sense that many Americans will only stop to consider how the pandemic is affecting them and their day-to-day life, instead of worrying about others.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It’s worth mentioning that while I have had some trouble at work, the majority of the customers that have been in have been absolutely lovely and understanding.
Also, while anti-maskers make up a concerning portion of the population, it’s by no means the majority. Plus, while there are differing reports about it, many news outlets are reporting an increase in mask-wearing across the country, which demonstrates that people have the capability to change their minds, even about politically divisive issues.
While mask-wearing has turned into a political issue, it should also remain a moral one. The pandemic has exposed how selfish people can be—and how deadly that is, as a result. If you refuse to wear a mask, you’re putting yourself, your family friends, and strangers at risk. Too many Americans have died or have had long-term complications from this virus already, and I’d wager that all of us know at least one person who’s more susceptible to the virus through chronic illness or age. Even if you don’t care if you get COVID-19, you’ll probably care when your family member comes down with it. And, while vaccines are growing more widespread in their availability, we’re not out of the woods yet.
We have to stay vigilant, aware, and most of all, compassionate with each other. The only way we’ll get through this is by doing it together.