Monday, June 14, 2021

Paranoid or Prescient? Does it matter?

It's interesting to me when people make fun of anyone taking what they perceive as undue precautions. There are two general reasons for precautions that seem unreasonable: #1 a lack of education or understanding on the part of the viewer and #2 a means to cope with stress on the part of the actor, i.e. a superstition. You'd think that neither of those scenarios would be enough to elicit harassment, but we're not there yet. 

A great example of the former is when a neighbour was gardening in front of her house and her daughter asked to go inside. The mum had to get up to unlock the front door. So, that seems weird, right? She locks her door even when she's standing ten feet in front of it?? But she explained that, since her husband's a cop, she's acutely aware of how easily and how often people's homes are robbed, even with the owners standing right out front. This is a case of the actor having more information than the viewer. I still leave my doors unlocked when I'm in the yard, but I understand why she doesn't. 

Recently a few guys in a car made a right-hand turn in front of my bike, stopped dead to block me, and ridiculed me for a for seconds for wearing a mask. I just backed up a bit and faced away from them, their breath a foot from my face. They drove on, and I continued my ride. But, WTF? 

From my vantage point, I feel like I fall in the former camp: I'm just more acutely aware of the dangers posed even outdoors. I live in one of the only regions in Ontario with rising Covid numbers. Our positive case rate today was 5.7% compared to the provincial average of 2.0. Everything opened based on the provincial numbers, but Waterloo isn't in the same bracket as the rest. It doesn't help that we're home to the Trinity Bible Chapel, which keeps openly violating orders to stop packing their church, and the anti-lockdown protests that brought Maxime Bernier here (provoking the ire of my city councillor pictured below), and one of the more complicated vaccination systems that leave a gap of up to 4 stressful weeks between signing up and actually getting an appointment. At this point, I will be amazed if I get vaxxed before the original 4 months waiting period. (ETA - got it June 17th in London - thanks #VaccineHunters!)

I know that being outside is safer than indoors, for sure, but experts on this continue to urge everyone,
"to stay vigilant when socializing outside as they can still get infected with the virus. . . . If people are outside and they are neither distanced nor wearing masks, then just being outside is not sufficient to prevent spread. . . . If people are gathering outside for social gatherings, they should be very mindful of being distanced or masked. If you wanted to be completely safe you can do both. . . . Because the new variants are more transmissible, it is possible that people may have to distance more than two metres, even outside." 
Recently, nine outbreaks in Montréal were linked to public parks. But beyond all the covid precautions, I've also grown to love not eating bugs and dust and the stench of sewage being sprayed on the fields when I hit the countryside.

Maybe I'm more cautious because the summer before all this mess, I went for dinner and drinks with a friend at a patio to celebrate the end of school. We made no physical contact and didn't touch anything in tandem, but we did sit across from one another for a couple hours. She had just the tiniest case of sniffles. A few days later, I was laid out in bed and stuck there for most of July. The next time we spoke she told me of the horrible flu she had had all summer! I commiserated.

And then there are the well-meaning people with a question or comment, who walk right up to me and PULL DOWN THEIR MASK to talk!! People, it's been over a year of this!! It's a bit of a paradox, because I wear a mask outside partially in case someone right beside me unmasks to talk to me, which, it appears, is far more likely to happen if I provoke them by wearing a mask!! 

But, even if people have reason to be afraid, others still make fun of them. Long before there were hands free laws, a friend was driving us down the 401, checking email on his phone at the same time, and occasionally swerving into the next lane. Each time we swerved, I'd beg him to let me check his phone for him. And each time he laughed because I was worried. That's just plain denial of the possibility of an accident happening to him, which is not uncommon. It seems to be a machismo thing to accept risk head on, mistaking it as a display of courage instead of recklessness. I say that also because the energy of the exchange I endured was similar to a catcall. Here I thought advanced age would protect me from any public intrusions on my daydreams. The last time I was shouted at on the street was as a young mom with my kids. A group of guys on bike road past chanting "MILF!" My son, about 8 at the time, asked me if I knew what that meant. I said 'no' to just move on with life, and he replied, "good." My little dude wanted to protect me from the numbskulls!

I realize it's a privilege to have nothing else about me that invites public scorn. Wouldn't it be nice to erradicate any random harassment on the streets!

A year ago, I wrote about the necessity of calling out people who are acting in a harmful manner, including refusing to wear a mask, using a drunk driver analogy to make my point. This time I'm arguing that people refrain from calling out people who are acting in a harmless manner, even if we don't like or understand their behaviour, even if the behaviour really doesn't make sense. If it doesn't have potential to harm you or anyone else, then let it go. Isn't that just polite

Maybe, for some people, it can feel like it's harming them. Perhaps they're distraught that I'm on the rival team, and yelling is a way to get me on board. Or maybe my mask is perceived to be judging them, as if I think I'm better, so they retaliate against a slight that didn't actually happen. It's similar to hatred of vegans who are just going about living their plant-eating lives. People can become belligerent when they feel their conception of themselves as a moral human being is threatened by someone following a principle they don't want to follow.

Otherwise, even if the actor is acting on a superstitious it shouldn't elicit such outrage. We don't yell at athletes for wearing lucky socks on game day! If someone truly believes that a mask does nothing protective, and that it's little more than a superstition to alleviate some stress for the wearer, then they should be happy they're not so afflicted with worry! 

I also think there's something primal about it all. We seems to have an inborn desire to hide our fear like we hide our sadness or distress. If not, then we're instructed to play it cool. And demonstrating beta emotions does provoke a take down response from others, no matter how much we chant "real men cry too." Fear and sadness are both still seen as a sign of weakness and, like a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti, invite attacks from the lions in waiting. Curious that we can't override this. Our main resort once discovered is to shift sadness to anger. But that just makes everything worse. Tough guys get sad and scared. Is it just a matter of saying it enough to re-wire the takedown response? 

And it's possible I'm being completely ridiculous, but I was right last June when I questioned why gloves were mandatory, but not masks. And again in August when I wrote to everyone I could to get them to put our break after 3 hours of teaching, not in the middle, so we could avoid hundreds of kids taking off their masks at once in our building. And again in September when I pointed out the problem with making all the stairs in the school uni-directional, forcing students to squish into half the number of stairways on the way in and the other half on the way out rather than have them spread out to go in and out using stairs closest to their classroom. And again in November when I spoke up about the office staff adding plexiglass barriers and ditching their masks. Each time, except for that last one, I was completely ignored. But in hindsight, it seems clear that I was right. So I'll be carrying on, wearing a mask outside, hoping for the best. 

ETA: And then two days later, maybe to avoid another episode with rowdy anti-maskers, or maybe to avoid looking the fool (dammit, conformity, you got to me!!), I took off my mask once I got past the more crowded trails, and a cyclist pulled up right beside me at a light, in the skinny bike lane, and told me about having just gotten all turned around in a cul de sac. He wanted to chat, which has never happened to me in all my years of cycling. I put on my mask in a hurry and motioned him to go first as soon as the light turned green. But, dude, what the actually fuck?!? I keep telling myself it was windy and he talked for less than a minute, but the encounter turned my legs to jelly, and I'll be stressed out for the next two weeks because of this. 

ETA: And now the Delta variant can be caught through FLEETING CONTACT OUTDOORS. Jesus!

And a list of errors in reasoning from anti-maskers from June 2020.

And this: 




You identified many reasons for the absurdity but I still believe we should stand our ground when it comes to caring for ourselves in the way that makes sense to us at this time in this body. Learning to give others the benefit of the doubt and minding our own business when appropriate would go along way to world peace.

Marie Snyder said...

Absolutely, Evelyn.