“But she started it!”
That childhood (and childish) protest came to mind last week after a brief exchange with a woman I’ve known for some four decades. I was on my once-a-week outing to shop, properly masked, waiting for the clerk in a small store to run my credit card.
The woman approached me saying, “Look at this, Mary.” She was holding up a badge on a lanyard that apparently declared she was absolved from wearing a face mask. I didn’t care to read it thoroughly, because she was indeed not wearing a face mask. I stepped back, blurting, “Oh, but I believe in wearing a mask! It shows I care about other people.”
“Well,” she replied. “I guess I care about myself first.” As she moved away, I grabbed my purchase and credit card, called what I hoped was a friendly-sounding “goodbye,” and hastened out the door.
For many years I’ve been studying the Non-Violent Communication methods of the late Marshall B. Rosenberg. That brief conversation did not demonstrate even a basic grasp of the NVC process. Dr. Rosenberg encourages us to respond with empathy, with an attempt to understand the other person’s feelings.
“Are you feeling angry,” I might’ve asked, “because you believe the order to wear a mask infringes on your civil liberties?” Or,
“Are you feeling apprehensive,” I could’ve asked, “because you’ve seen or heard claims that masks might sometimes be dangerous?”
But I didn’t. I left the shop despairing of her selfishness. She was probably despairing of my prigishness, both of us judging the other, eliminating any possibility of mutual understanding. Rosenberg taught that a basic component of NVC is a willingness to spend time. With a pandemic raging, with case counts suddenly soaring in our small community, I didn’t believe I could afford the time to explore a route toward mutuality with someone standing inches away, not wearing a mask.
I believe Rosenberg would’ve approved if I’d simply said something noncommittal, like “How about that!” Or I could’ve affirmed that she was making her point clear with, “Appears you don’t believe in masks,” and just got the heck out of there. While I don’t know her well, I know enough about her life to be aware of setbacks and tragedies. She just wants to feel safe and free, as do we all––especially now.
“Yeah, but . . . ” you want to say. I hear you. So when there seems to be no right way to proceed, I harken back to Dorothy Day, the great social activist and religious leader. In June 1946, she was pondering the terrible state of the world: everything from atom bomb tests to housing shortages and global starvation. She concluded: “we face the situation that there is nothing we can do for people except to love them.”
Dorothy Day added a prayer: “ … dear God––please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.”
One thought on “Unmasked”
Ohhh boy, this is hard, but good, advice.
Thanks, Mary, for offering the pause between thought and response.