Here at the North Grenville Times, we get lots of Letters to the Editor. I read many of the letters and, while I don’t agree with all of them, I appreciate the fact that people are willing to write into the Times to share their opinions. It proves that we really are, in many ways, the Voice of North Grenville.
There was, however, one letter a few months ago that really stuck with me. At the end of May, a local senior wrote into the paper expressing her concern over an interaction she had with a younger man at the Walmart Garden Centre. When she asked him to move back a bit while waiting in line, he sarcastically asked her how far. When she explained she was just following the rules, he proceeded to tell her that she was scared, bowing to government control, and that she should go hide under a rock.
While I believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion, the interaction as described by this local senior was completely avoidable. Regardless of whether the man “believed” in COVID-19 or not, it wouldn’t have been difficult for him to simply take a step back. It would have been the respectful thing to do for a senior citizen, global pandemic or not.
This letter to the Editor shows how divided and hostile fear and uncertainty can make us. Yes, there have been many ways in which this community has rallied together to help support each other during these unprecedented times. However, there have also been ways that it has divided us, causing stress for many, especially those on the front lines.
For example, the debate over masks has been extremely hostile. One article posted on Facebook about using face coverings by the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit in June, before they became mandatory, garnered 65 comments. Some were in support of using masks, while others were dead against it, calling COVID-19 a “scamdemic”, a “brainwashing hoax”, and saying that wearing a mask is “not healthy in this hot weather.”
The debate only worsened when wearing masks in indoor public spaces became mandatory a few weeks ago. I saw one post on Facebook about a teenage grocery store clerk being berated by someone at their cash about having to wear a mask while shopping. Mayor Nancy Peckford even chimed in online, asking angry people to contact her as an elected official, rather than harassing frontline workers who have nothing to do with the policy.
Many people have their reasons for being vehemently against the requirement of masks in public indoor spaces. Some believe it is an infringement on their human rights, for a precaution that doesn’t have significant evidence to prove that it works. It has been shown that when masks are not worn properly, they don’t do much to prevent the spread of droplets and, therefore, the virus. This group is even more concerned about the fast-tracking of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that they may be forced to take it against their will.
Regardless of personal feelings and opinions, everyone also has the right to feel secure when they leave their home. I can imagine it was hard for the young grocery store clerk to come to work the next day after the abuse they endured by people who were obviously looking for somewhere to direct their anger and frustration.
I think that fear is probably the driving force behind a lot of the nasty comments and divisive debates. No one in this lifetime has ever been through something like this, and it is hard to know how to react. Some people react to fear with anxiety and worry, while others are more comfortable with expressing themselves through anger and denial. As humans, we all react to stressful situations in different ways, and this can cause a lot of friction in society, especially with something as globally traumatic as what we are going through.
The kindest action we can do right now is to practice tolerance. No matter what your viewpoint (on masks or the pandemic in general), it is important to recognize that everyone is going to have their own opinions, and shaming or berating them for those opinions is not going to help anyone. It goes both ways. With the mandatory mask order, it is easy to judge someone for not wearing a face covering. However, we have to keep in mind that those with some underlying conditions are not required to wear a mask. That father in the grocery store who is carting around four kids, even though we have been told to shop alone, may not have a choice due to childcare restrictions. You absolutely never know someone’s story by looking at them, and making sweeping judgements in this time of intense anxiety is not going to help our community remain a kind and respectful place to live.
So, next time you feel like telling someone off for not wearing (or wearing) a mask, or for any other COVID-19 related decision, remember that we are all just doing our best. We may not agree with some of the ways people are choosing to cope, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be tolerant and kind to those around us. This is the perfect time to take a deep breath and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Tolerance of others is key at the best of times, but it is especially important in this emotionally charged and fear-ridden world. As my editor David has said in past editorials: “This, too, will pass. We shall overcome.”