On Mask-Wearing, Rights, and Responsibilities

On Mask-Wearing, Rights, and Responsibilities

I thought the Omaha World-Herald got it right in this editorial highlighting the importance of wearing a mask in public during the health crisis.

Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of illness seemed foreign to most Americans prior to COVID-19, and now with the political debates rising from the various state and local economic shutdowns, some may see wearing a mask as a concession to government control or what they perceive to be unjustified fear.

But wearing a mask in public should not be seen as a sign of weakness, a smug vanity measure, or kowtowing to any political movement. It’s just good sense given what we know is going on right now.

Our rights always require responsibilities. Liberty is an individual right, but also requires respect for other individuals. In a pandemic where people can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, it is entirely appropriate to encourage mask wearing, particularly when we are in areas where perfect social distancing is not possible.

This is not intended to protect us from ourselves, but control the risk we may pose to others, and is consistent with individual liberty.

Americans generally have a commendable spirit of rebelliousness against orders that seem unfair or unjust. We would not have achieved as many great things without this tendency.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, our culture and national ideals sometimes contribute to an entitlement mentality that looks at all inconveniences and limits on our actions as equally unjust. Some of us tend to adopt a knee-jerk response that nobody can tell us what to do, especially experts, who we may feel get undue authority that impacts our lives.

A lot of Americans do not understand, for example, that a private business is well within its rights to require mask-wearing at their establishment. They wrongly believe their freedoms (really, their inconveniences) trump the property rights of the owners, not to mention the wishes of other customers or workers who don’t want to be exposed.

Some people think because they have money to spend that other people’s rights and concerns are not material. In these cases, they are confusing liberty with license to do whatever they feel.

Some people say that those who are “afraid” should just stay home and let everyone else go about their business, but what kind of liberty is that for the people who may be more vulnerable, and those who are responsible for caring for them?

If the goal is really to reopen the economy and restore the freedoms Americans enjoyed before COVID-19, it’s going to take all of us being able to go about our daily lives as best we can.

In the long-term, liberty is best preserved when it’s exercised by responsible people who understand the consequences of their actions.

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