LOUISVILLE, KY – MARCH 17: A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Today marks the reopening of Jefferson County Public Schools for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Fill in the Blank = “An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.”
This entry from the New Oxford American Dictionary comes as a reminder of a concept that too many of our current crop of citizens have forgotten or are unwilling to demonstrate.
The “Me, Myself, and Mine” mantra and the related hyper-individualism mindset is having mortal consequences in our communities. These attitudes are contradictory to the sense of commonweal—i.e. “common good”—upon which our nation and our state were founded.
Among the too many community-rending issues is mask wearing, especially regarding public school students who are in the throes of returning to in-person instruction in the new school term. Illustrating the rancor about this issue are some comments delivered at a recent area school board meeting:
- “It’s 100% useless, the face mask it’s useless.”
- “The masks do nothing for our children.”
- “You as school directors are not doctors, epidemiologists, infectious diseases doctors, and are not qualified to make such decisions. You know who is qualified to make that decision? Me, her mother.”
- “If you were to force a child to wear a mask against their will it could be looked upon as child abuse. And if you think about it, you’re taking away their freedom and their rights.”
And then there’s this one from the same meeting:
- “Where does your concern lie other than in opinion? We don’t care what your opinion is, we want facts.”
Well, here are the facts.
According to the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, “the preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high.”
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that “prior to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the efficacy of community mask wearing to reduce the spread of respiratory infections was controversial because there were no solid relevant data to support their use. During the pandemic, the scientific evidence has increased. Compelling data now demonstrate that community mask wearing is an effective non-pharmacologic intervention to reduce the spread of this infection, especially as source control to prevent spread from infected persons, but also as protection to reduce wearers’ exposure to infection.”
And particularly for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics concludes that“face masks can be safely worn by all children 2 years of age and older, including the vast majority of children with underlying health conditions, with rare exception. Children 2 years of age and older have demonstrated their ability to wear a face mask. In addition to protecting the child, the use of face masks significantly reduces the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections within schools and other community settings. Home use of face masks also may be particularly valuable in households that include medically fragile, immunocompromised, or at-risk adults and children.”
Of course, in this era of Alternative Facts and Truths, the braying anti’s will continue to dispute scientific findings and the statements of well-qualified medical experts and deal the “taking away their freedom and their rights” card.
Genuine patriots recognize that the rights and freedoms written the U.S. Constitution are not implacable; there are times in the life of a nation when certain entitlements need to be relaxed, for instance, in a time of war. And more than one orator has compared the fight against the current pandemic to a waging a world war.
Although World War II was (just slightly) before my time, I heard plenty about it from my parents, grandparents, and other kin. Certainly my father and thousands of others who served in the military during WWII forfeited some of their personal freedoms to preserve our national freedoms. As well, those citizens not in uniform served the country by forgoing many aspects of their daily lives for the good of the common cause.
One example of such relinquishment was the rationing of certain goods and, in some cases, services; people in the homeland did what they did not always want to do for the benefit of a greater issue.
Journalist Jake Nivens writes in The New York Times Magazine that “by and large, most Americans went through with [rationing]. Did they grumble? Certainly. If you look at the ration system, you had to make decisions like, ‘Do I want to have a pound of ground meat or do I want a jar of cheese spread?’ We didn’t have enough sugar or butter or lard, because they were used to make explosives. But people understood that. It’s an intellectual proposition, but that’s not to say it made anybody happy. Workers weren’t happy about wage controls. Businesses weren’t happy about price controls. Landlords weren’t happy about rent controls. It’s a big country, so there’s always going to be anomalies, but most Americans realized these things were probably necessary for the war effort and were willing to go along.”
A silent subtext to much of the current divisive rhetoric is something like “We live in a democracy and we have the absolute right to do whatever we want to do.”
Wrong. What these yahoos are describing is not democracy; it is anarchy.
According to historian and scholar Diane Ravitch, “Democracy is a process, a way of living and working together. It is evolutionary, not static. It requires cooperation, compromise, and tolerance among all citizens. Making it work is hard, not easy. Freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility.”
As citizens of our democracy—at least for now—we all have the duty to live and act responsibly in ways that assure and ensure the common good. That means sometimes doing what we do not prefer to do and sometimes not doing what we want to do.
The familiar words from a 1642 sermon by clergyman and poet John Donne apply to an effective representative democracy: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
“. . . because I am involved in mankind . . .” I will wear my mask.
“. . . because [you are] involved in mankind . . .” I want you to wear a mask.
“. . . because [we are] involved in mankind . . .” I want our children to be safe and wear masks.
The word sought above is SACRIFICE = An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.
Is your personal comfort more important than the health of our children and neighbors? Is your personal preference more worthy than the health and common good of our nation? I don’t think so.
Tone down your bombast and put on a mask. Make a noble sacrifice. You are worth it. We all are worth it.
Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].
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