It has been over a year since, due to Covid, I was sent to work from home for the following 8 months. Last Monday, 29 March 2021, masked faces arrived in Noosa. Before then, I had seen no more than 4 masked faces in town.
Sunday, in Brisbane, 8 people tested positive to Covid-19 (2 proved to be false positives). That day, Queensland’s State Government, mandated the use of masks everywhere indoors (except home), from 5pm the next day.
Some exemptions apply, including children under 12 and certain medical conditions.
Monday, I went to work. Before noon, my employer had sent 3 different emails with instructions and mandates. Directions varied and some even contradicted themselves.
After lunch, ‘the science was settled’ and everyone was advised that face masks were mandatory at work from the next day. I had a chat with my manager and expressed my reluctance to comply with that mandate; I was allowed to work from home.
I already expressed to friends, the uneasiness I get from watching footage from around the world, especially Portugal, where everyone is masked everywhere.
I’m all for every individual to choose what to wear, be it a mask, an apiarist suit, or something really abhorrent as wearing socks and sandals but, to each their own.
Though when I see the overwhelming majority choosing to hide their faces, I see something ugly, something harmful, even poisonous. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somehow, it turns us into something less, less human; a kind of apotemnophilia of the full potential of the human experience; something that pushes us away from our potential, from our duty to move towards the “Divine”.
The ideia of HAVING TO wear a face mask throughout the day, causes me genuine anxiety. Some might call it mask-phobia, but since I don’t have an irracional fear of masks, I call it mask-aversion.
I booked a medical appointment for Tuesday afternoon. The doctor, sensitive to my plight, gave me an exemption certificate.
According to the letter of the law (I live in a state of law), my medical exemption allows me to enter any space open to the public with my mug uncovered; access and service cannot be denied to me on that basis.
I’m possibly wrong, but I think both the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1998 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, will be amended and have “202X” in their title.
Anyway, Monday afternoon the supermarket was the busiest I’d seen it; almost no veggies; empty shelves (yes, toilet paper again); and long queues for the register. A dozen people were wearing face masks, none of the employees was.
The change came overnight.
Tuesday, I worked from home and after my doctor’s appointment I stopped by the same supermarket; it was a whole different beast, a fully masked one.
Being the only person without a mask, I got the same judging stares I used to get before giving up my nasty habit of sneezing and coughing over other people.
I was dangerous, my unhindered breath posed a risk and physical distance was actively (and even comically) sought.
That first veiled evening, the mask was a symbol allowing its bearer to pass on open and unapologetic judgment on faces showing teeth; the reason for the noncompliance, irrelevant.
These are the same people who, less than 24 hours before, were ok with standing, unmasked, shoulder to shoulder with the next person. Note: to date, there are no reported positives in Noosa.
What is it that makes us change general behaviours overnight? Is it a deep sense of duty to the rule of law? To governmental mandates? Is it a moral obligation?
Fear has a part to play, sure, but doesn’t explain it all: if the enemy is at the gates, why choose to wait until 5pm the next day to put the cloth armour on?
It seems an exercise in unquestioning compliance, where we handover our critical judgment and let others (with less than impressive track records) decide what’s best for us.
I call it the infantilisation of the masses and yes, I’m throwing a tantrum!!!
After having spoken to my manager, Wednesday I went to work unmasked. No objection whatsoever from anyone in the building – to those who asked, I mentioned my medically exemption without providing any details… which no one asked anyway.
Thursday morning, an email informed us that one needn’t use a mask if a 1.5m distance could be maintained from the nearest human being. Immediately, all masks came off.
Observation: Isn’t it curious that the expression “social distance” is used in lieu of “physical distance”, which is exactly what it is? I mean, what’s the scope of meaning you atribute to the word “social”? Are words and thoughts in a symbiotic relationship?
By accepting the accelerating separation between social classes (in a socialist political system or otherwise); the way we socialise with each other becomes socially acceptable; we become socialised in a new societal normal. Anyway, it’s just a social observation.
The words we use (or are allowed to use) do shape the way we think.
A colleague, who had been away most of the morning in meetings, came into the open office space still masked, had a discussion here, a conversation there, but only took off the mask when the new information was relayed: “Guys, you could’ve told me sooner!”
I genuinely fail to get it; what changed? What material evidence has presented itself that makes it safe to take it off now, when 1 minute ago wasn’t?
Is that all it takes to feel safer and more at ease about putting others at risk? Permission from above?
It seems like a military lesson on the chain of command; an exercise in training the troops to obey, unquestioningly, any orders coming from a higher ranking officer.
But whilst in the armed forces, immediate obedience is paramount in life or death situations; discipline is mother’s milk; and both come from individual choice, in offices and streets around the world, acquiescence seems to spawn mainly from feelings of fear and guilt.
Where will fear and guilt feelings take us next?
Stop us from sitting on park benches; eating in the car; or keeping kids away from the playground, lest one is fined?
Or solely to a world where we have to justify a police officer the reason for taking a walk?
“Where do you live? Where’re you going? Who’re you seeing?”
“Show me zeee paperrs! SHOW ME ZEEE PAPERRS!”
Maybe mandating the use of armbands, to quickly identify who’s allowed to go about their business, would save officers and ‘good’ citizens some time.
When does it become a Police State? An authoritarian one? Where’s the threshold? Where, precisely, is the line crossed?
It surely isn’t serving indefinite sentences of house arrest without ever having committed a crime; or being denied the right to work; or the right to move around; or the right to free association; or your kids right to an education.
I truly believe one’s responsibilities are far more important than one’s rights, but unless we can agree on which rights are inalienable and we become uncompromising in their defence, our ultimate responsibility will be to obey, period.
This week has been quite the experience, not only outdoors — where, to drink a coffee, I had to put my recent law degree to use; and realised how much I rely on lip reading and facial expressions to have an effective conversation, especially with a stranger — but also indoors.
The other night at bed time, one of my girls cried quite a bit. She claimed fear from all the eyes peering over masked mouths at school pick-up time that day.
I can shift responsibility for my baby’s wellbeing to a masked villain in one of inspector Gadget’s episodes, but this one is mainly on me. Mea culpa for talking about this in my kids’ presence.
It’s one of those parenting balancing exercises: on one hand I want to protect them; on the other, teach them that not all bears are pink and fart rainbows.
They should not be exposed to everything, but I’ve also vowed not to lie to them. For better or worse, they will know where their father stands and why.
A father’s eyes often say more than words can, but I want my kids to be able to see the whole of my face whenever they look at me. The way they see me is the way they’ll act. Doesn’t your child too, copy any of your mannerisms, expressions or habits?
A few years ago, my eldest started bitting her nails and that’s when I stopped bitting mine; my daughter made me jettison a decades’ old habit. She’s quitting too – promises of nail polish (violet not purple) have resulted in an increase of her scratching capabilities.
I don’t want to show my kids to be afraid of breathing, or see it as an irresponsible act. After all they’ve heard (and practised) of the Wim Hof method, it would be an exercise in doublethink.
P.S. The mask mandate has been extended in Queensland for the next 15 days. I’m sure I’ll get used seeing them everywhere; also certainly, this habituation will decrease my anxiety levels.
I just wish my uneasiness was caused by a generalised decision to show more skin instead of hiding it behind cloth… that’s been my proclivity since puberty!
P.S.2: My son cries when it’s time to take off his Benfica jersey and spits in the toilet while pissing! Strange kid, I wonder where he got that from…