On being … viewed from behind someone else’s mask

By Ingrid Sapona       

The title of today’s column is an admittedly clumsy reference to the old saying about not judging someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. That adage, which is about practicing empathy, has weighed heavily on my mind during this pandemic.

Like many, I find wearing a face mask uncomfortable. I find them hot, they often fog up my glasses, they snag my upper eye lashes (which aren’t particularly long), and even my ears seem to get tired by the minor tugging of the elastic fasteners. Boohoo… right?

When I’m feeling especially annoyed from wearing a mask, I rein in my frustration by reminding myself that no matter how irksome the mask is, I’ll bet being on a respirator in the hospital is way more uncomfortable! I also think about healthcare workers who wear masks all day. Indeed, for them, masks are just the first of many layers they have to wear when dealing with COVID-19 patients. Talk about uncomfortable! And, when I’m tempted to tug the mask down or off, I think about how lucky I am that I barely have to give more than a passing thought to whether the mask is contaminated. Poor healthcare workers have to be as careful about how they take their mask off as they are when they suit up at the start of their shift.

But mask wearing isn’t the only activity that causes me to think about our heroic healthcare workers. As odd as it may sound, I think about them every time someone asks me to sign a waiver of liability before using their facilities or services. (For example, my sail club required members to sign a waiver before being allowed to launch their boat. Similarly, my condo board wants residents to sign a waiver before using the communal barbecue.) I completely understand the rationale for such waivers and I don’t have a problem with them. In fact, I think they’re a useful reminder to folks that the virus is still very real and that certain activities present higher risks. And I don’t blame businesses for wanting to limit their liability.

I wonder, however, if folks would equally willingly sign a waiver that said that if they get COVID-19 from undertaking riskier activities they’d agree to forego medical help. Every time someone quickly, perhaps unthinkingly, signs such a waiver and willingly assumes added risk, they’re also increasing the risk of burdening the healthcare system and healthcare workers, who don’t have a say in the decision that person made when signing the waiver. Maybe such waivers should include a caution that there’s no guarantee the healthcare system will be available if the system becomes overburdened as a result of folks who willingly assumed the risks associated with various activities.

In the early days of the pandemic, there was lots of talk about “flattening the curve”. The rationale behind that was the very real concern that the healthcare system would become overwhelmed if we didn’t slow down the rate of spread of the virus. The initial concerns related largely to insufficient supplies of things like N95 masks, personal protective equipment, and hospital ventilators. Those supply-chain problems have pretty much been sorted out, but the pressure, stress, strain, and danger healthcare workers face is on-going, even if it doesn’t get as much news play these days.

Though I believe that we’d slow the spread of the virus if people routinely wore masks when out and about, I get that it’s a contentious issue. And so, I understand why government authorities – and business owners – prefer to let people decide for themselves. My only wish is that when people weigh the pros and cons of wearing a mask, they think about how their decision might impact two groups: those whose health is precarious and the healthcare workers who’ll be called on to help those who become seriously ill due to COVID-19.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being … fearful

By Ingrid Sapona

On the surface, the senseless killing of yet another black man at the hands of police was a match that lit a tinderbox. The fire’s intensity shouldn’t really surprise anyone, as it’s been stoked by years of racism, hatred, contempt, and fear that’s been exposed and amplified by Trump’s actions and behaviours. 

Time and again, Trump has promoted hatred of different races – from his characterization of Mexicans as murderers and rapists, to his description of third-world countries as shitholes. And he has promoted racism – from his failure to condemn torch-baring white nationalist marchers in Charlottesville, to his recent use of racially charged phrases like “when the looting starts the shooting starts”.

Time and again, Trump has promoted violence. On the campaign trail in 2016 he told audience members he’d pay their legal fees if they engaged in violence against protesters. At a campaign rally in 2017 he praised a representative who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault of a reporter saying, “Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!” When protests erupted in Michigan and Minnesota against pandemic restrictions, he egged people on urging them to “liberate” their states. He even went a step further when he told people to “liberate Virginia, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It’s under siege!” Nothing like the commander-in-chief urging gun owners to storm statehouses locked and loaded.

And if turning citizens on each other doesn’t work, Trump and his administration have proclaimed their willingness to turn the military on citizens. In early June the U.S. Secretary of Defense compared protests in cities across the country to battlespaces, while Trump warned governors that if they don’t take back their streets, he’ll do it for them by sending in the military.

How can this be happening in the U.S.?

I think there are two possible explanations for how the fabric of America has worn so thin: fear or indifference. If someone’s truly indifferent in the face of all the hatred and violence, then I don’t imagine there’s much anyone can say that will motivate them to take notice, much less do something. But I find it hard to believe that so many people in the U.S. can be indifferent to the plight of others. I think that the main thing underlying the U.S.’s self-destruction is fear.

So, I’ve really been thinking about fear. I know fear is deeply personal and it can be debilitating. But I think the time has come for everyone to examine their own fear and to think about the consequences to the country – to the world – if you don’t move past it.

If you’re struggling with the bounds of your own fear, ask yourself a few simple questions: Are you willing to live with the fact that the notion of freedom and justice for all is a lie? Are you willing to persist in turning a blind eye to social injustice? Are you willing to stand by and let the government take up arms against peaceful protesters?

If you answered no to any of these questions, then now’s the time to take a stand. Let your fear motivate you to fight injustice and show that you believe that black lives matter. If we don’t demand accountability and change now, then the world will become much more dangerous for us all.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona