The Blog

How About Maybe? To Mask or Not to Mask?

I’m not interested in the decision you have made for yourself regarding getting the vaccination or not. I am, however, very interested in how you’re going to relate to the person whose choice is different from yours.

How will you treat those who do not share your point of view?

Mask wearing is an even better topic of consideration, as one’s choice whether to wear or not to wear one is readily visible. The mask is a marker of these times and it has become a symbol of solidarity and opposition.

I recall when my wondering about how we would navigate these matters got very real. It was the day when it became clear that people who I liked, even loved, might take a point of view different from mine towards Covid considerations.

The learning came through an IG post of a woman who I had come to be very fond of. Though we had never met in person, we have many friends in common, and many shared values and lifestyle choices. I liked Jessica. I trusted her.

That morning I came upon her question, posed in a simple IG poll.

Will you be getting vaccinated? YES or NO.

It was late spring, before the vaccinations were even close to being ready and when so much information about Covid was swirling.

At the time, I was in lockdown with everybody else, mostly enjoying the global pause. As an introvert and retired monk, I felt right at ease and willing to move slowly as we collectively assessed the situation. And, I was also ravenous. When it came to data about the virus, biome, politics, antibodies, Chinese market, etc., I was all ears.

Wanting to be well informed, I collected data from all points of view. It’s what I do naturally when it comes to navigating life. I collect data, I consider all views, I try them on, I test and challenge them, I listen for my own knowing, I test that knowing, and repeat the cycle over and over. When it came to Covid, I watched liberal and conservative news channels. I read Q Anon posts and watched their videos. I read the science. I wondered. I reasoned. I listened.

Whereas in general I tend to not engage on social media, when Jessica’s post came up in my feed, I didn’t hesitate to respond.

Rather than clicking on YES or NO, I wrote “How about maybe?”

Her response stunned me.

The text reply read, “Reaaaallllllyyyyyy?”

This indicated to me that she had a clear position and was wanting to see who was on her side. To be honest, I wasn’t even certain which “side” she was on. I just knew that, if I was on the opposite one, I was in trouble.**

I took one giant step backwards.

As I mentioned, I am not one to have important conversations on social media. I honestly thought she had simply omitted the “maybe” option in haste — not that she didn’t see it as an option.

I responded to her “really” question by speaking honestly about my uncertainty and, in a brief exchange, I offered the invitation for her to consider the importance of being willing to not know absolutely and to explore multiple perspectives and even hang out in them for a while. **I could absolutely see myself deciding to get the vax as well as to not get it. I could also see myself indecisive for a while — maybe a long while — and I was comfortable with all of these stands.**

But most people aren’t accustomed to spending time in not knowing and trying on different points of view. I could see this was true for Jessica.

She needed certainty.

Most of us believe we also have this need. But this is likely a residue of our biology and what can often help us survive. After all, If we take too much time deciding if the tiger is a threat, we might be dead. So, very often, even if the perceived tiger turns out to be a bush, we will feel certain it’s a tiger and either run, freeze, or attack.

This is an incredibly useful survival mechanism when it comes to encountering tigers in the wild. And it’s even okay if while “out there” we attack a bush now and then by mistake.

But when it comes to relationships, innovation, and creativity, this knee-jerk approach sucks.

I realize that a Covid vaccination intersects both the survival and relational elements of our lives. Even still, there is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to the choice to get the vaccination or not. There is only what’s right for you. 

This is a difficult truth to stand in. For vaxers and non vaxers alike.

So, knowing this, when would we ever make somebody else wrong? Only when we felt the need for corroboration in order to feel safe and secure, would we make others wrong. If we were truly able to hold a giant perspective where all choices are seen as valid ones, and a big heart where all people are loved no matter what they choose, though we might feel fear, anxiety, judgement or self-righteousness, we would not act from the fear to seek corroboration or to damn the opposition.

We would stand in our choice, while remaining curious in our actions and conversations.

This is what I mean when I say I am not interested in what your decision is. Although, as part of my ongoing data collection, I am open to hearing how you came to yours, I am now mostly interested in how we are going to behave once we have made our decisions.

If you’re locked into your decision as being the right one, always seeking data and people to back up your choices and to prove you are getting it right and everybody else is getting it wrong, then I can imagine how you are going to treat others. Like idiots. Losers. Sheep. Fearful ignorant followers.

And this, my friends, is where the problem lies. It was the problem before Covid and it is at the root of our existential crisis as a species. Our survival as a species is dependent upon our ability to deeply ask this question: How are you going to treat the person who is different from you? As less than? As wrong? As flawed? As undeserving?

The key to navigating Covid and the rest of the issues we are confronting in these times is to learn to take multiple perspectives, to stand in each of them before we act — to see they are all valid perspectives.

This is no easy maneuver, by any stretch. But it is worthy of our consideration and exploration, because **to move in life from a place of inclusion and kindness is of benefit to all.** Plus, it brings the strength of ambivalence to bear. Although this word is mostly viewed as a weakness, ponder the following …

It is a teaching from a beloved teacher, Stephen Jenkinson, taken from his book Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble.

“Turn again to the great treasure, that story that is the family tree of words, the etymology of what has come to us in English. We have this word ambivalence, and we know what it means to us now: something like ‘indecision,’ or in a stronger form ‘paralysis,’ that comes from being pulled in incompatible directions. Never understood as any kind of strength or competence or ability, **we are warned away from ambivalence at an early age** and experience some real anxiety whenever it comes to call.

Ambivalence is something of a moral failing in a time of certainty addiction and heroism.

“That is a recent meaning. Its constituent parts track the change and give us something of the existential lineage of the word. We have the prefix  ambi-, which in one sense meant ‘both’ or ‘pertaining to both.’ But its older meaning is closer to ‘around.’ So you can see that the prefix doesn’t calculate or count. It is a relational word, and it signals something spatial, and it registers something like ‘plurality,’ like ‘the consequence that rises up from diversity, something that rises when you move around the possible and the impossible things.’

“And then we have valence — a word used most often now in physics, but whose Latin origin means ‘strength,’ and which gives us the word valour. This signals something like ‘the proclivity or capacity by which something or someone can be recognized.’ If you employ the poetics at the soul of the language granted to you at birth and that have probably slowly eroded during your formal education and encourage these two words back towards each other in semantic reunion, a little revolt in the fiefdom of your certainty gets underway.**

“Ambivalence is ‘the capacity to entertain a diversity of possibilities or tendencies at the same time, without recourse to the premature and often unnecessary decision to vanquish plurality for the sake of certainty.’ In other words, the etymology tells us that ambivalence has, for the balance of its semantic life, been a skill born of being a child of a diverse world, not an affliction born of weakness of character or a lack of self-awareness.”

Recent Posts 3, feather, diamond with decorative line


Listen to Sarah in conversation with podcasters from all over the world on a variety of topics.