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The question

I have a Facebook friend who’s been a vehement anti-masker throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s even participated in protests declaring the pandemic a hoax and how we should all refuse to wear masks! This friend isn’t stupid; she has two university degrees and has retired from a high-profile job. As a responsible mask-wearing citizen, I had to add my two cents to her Facebook page – unleashing a storm of angry replies from her. How can I handle this?

The answer

By way of preface, please allow me to say that in university, I originally majored in philosophy. I found it disappointing. Far from “love of wisdom,” the word’s root, modern philosophy struck me as little more than a bunch of tweedy old professors arguing with each other’s articles in some sort of pseudo-technical, highly arcane language. (Hoping for a pat on the back. But if you patted one on the shoulder, a cloud of dust would arise.)

One thing stuck with me, though, through the thickets of mumbo-jumbo: the notion that the only real measure of a truth is something upon which “all reasonable people agree.”

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I liked that! Let’s apply it here.

Now, I know there’s an argument to be made by anti-maskers. One of my smartest and most well-informed friends is infuriated by all the mask-wearing. She has even contemplated, but so far stopped short of, forbidding all mask-wearing in her home.

She is entitled to her opinion. Personally, I’ve never understood the anti-masker stance. I suppose anti-maskers bridle at the notion of being told what to wear, and will marshal all sorts of facts and statistics and studies as they argue with you.

But it seems like a relatively minor inconvenience, and really, it’s just a matter of common courtesy, isn’t it, as we’ve known pretty much from the beginning? A way of saying to your fellow citizens: “We’re all in this together.”

My thing is that any crisis can be looked upon as an opportunity for growth and a pandemic, like a war, can have the salutary effect of getting us all to pull together.

I just finished reading a book about the Blitz in the Second World War. We think we’ve got problems? Try looking up and seeing the sky dark with Luftwaffe planes, night after night, month after month, carpet-bombing your city. The Brits stoically pulled together during this dark time, and so could/should we.

But there will always be a few rogue elephants, such as your friend, who insist on their “rights” even in pull-together times.

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I understand even less the notion that the pandemic is a “hoax.” Perpetrated by whom? What evil mastermind, in what fortified bunker or on what Dr. Evil-type island, sharks swimming in a pool in his conference room, could be behind all this? And to what end?

But there are larger issues afoot, e.g. the closure of many small businesses – possibly big ones, too, such as older-than-Canada-itself Hudson’s Bay – especially in the run-up to Christmas, a time so many retailers depend on for the lion’s share of their yearly revenues.

Then there’s the mental-health toll on people of prolonged periods of “self isolation” because of the pandemic.

In your shoes, I’d attempt to gently steer your friend’s energies away from her anti-masking and pandemic-is-a-hoax arguments (also, if it comes up, the sinister implications of contrails and whether moon landings were all staged by the U.S. government) and toward more fruitful areas of debate.

Also, perhaps, looking toward the short- and mid-term future: What’s her stance on household-bubble-only Christmases? And vis-à-vis vaccines: Should they be mandatory? For employees? Travel? In general?

About these matters you and your friend can productively and constructively argue. Refuse to allow yourself to be drawn into any kind of firefight. If she insists on digging in her heels on the righteousness of her rogue stance, calmly maintain yours.

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And simply hope that, even on Facebook, eventually, “all reasonable people agree” she’s a little out there and rational minds will ultimately prevail.

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