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Refusing to Wear a Mask Isn't 'Choosing Freedom Over Fear'

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I keep hearing people proclaim that they won’t wear masks in public, despite the world-wide pandemic and science behind containing the virus, because they are choosing “freedom over fear.” They are taking their cue from people like the President. Trump, after being hospitalized after a bout with COVID-19 wherein he received experimental treatments and two rounds of supplemental oxygen, tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.

This brings to mind a quote from “The Aviator,” the 2004 film about the life of Howard Hughes. Hughes is dining with the Hepburn family, and Mrs. Hepburn says, “We don’t care about money here.” Hughes replies, “That’s because you have it. You don’t care about money because you’ve always had it.”

The freedom to “not care” about money demonstrates the privilege of wealth. The privilege of health is very much the same. Those who claim they are unafraid of contracting COVID-19 are usually people who have the privilege to “not care” about being sick. They have a lackadaisical attitude about illness because they always had health. This privilege is clouding their view of reality, and they are unable to see that the rest of us aren’t so lucky.

We trudge through life, through systems, and through a society that is not designed for us. We watch others live their lives, unaware of the gift it is to be in their shoes.

Millions of us are chronically ill and/or have underlying health conditions that make us especially susceptible to contracting COVID-19. We do not have the option to choose “freedom over fear.”

You are damn right we’re afraid.

We are afraid of being further marginalized, erased from schools and workplaces that refuse to offer flexibility and reasonable accommodations.

We are afraid of doctors and medical professionals who constantly minimize our symptoms and suffering when we don’t fit a tidy diagnostic criterion.

We are afraid of losing friendships and relationships because we are seen as “flaky” and lazy.

Fear is not a response that should be immediately suppressed and ignored. Fear is healthy, important and crucial to our survival. When you don’t wear your mask in public, you are not being brave. You are being callous. Cruel. Sending the message that my life does not matter, because you cannot be bothered to put some fabric over your face for a short period of time. Your refusal to wear a mask exponentially increases the likelihood that you will force me, or others in my community, into a mask. One connected to a respirator, breathing heavy sighs for lungs that no longer work.

Let me be clear: The refusal to wear a mask is not some act of civil disobedience. It is not a callback to the days of the American Revolution or a stand against tyranny. People who refuse to wear masks are stubbornly clinging to the absurd notion that their action is noble and true. Nothing seems to convince them otherwise, no matter the cost.

So to anti-maskers, I leave you with this: This is not a hill you should want to die on, because your selfishness only succeeds in dragging us into the grave beneath you.

Getty image by PsychBeard.

Originally published: December 30, 2020
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