Picture this: A towering sign stands outside a mall. It reads, “Face Masks versus No Face Masks || Debate #1.”
A Referee takes a piece of chalk and draws a line across the pavement. She writes “right” on the east side of the line, and “left” on the west side, before beckoning two people from the gathering crowd to come and stand on opposing sides of the line.
The first person puts his toe to the line, as does the second person on the other side, and there they stand—facing off. Ready to “debate”. Both participants dig in their heels to brace for any arguments thrown in their direction.
The Ref blows her whistle.
The timer is struck.
The woman from the left begins yelling in the face of the man from the right—”You have to wear a mask wherever you go, otherwise you’re just being selfish! It’s your civil duty! Think of the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those who work as a part of our essential services! They don’t want to be breathing in your germs!”
The man from the right begins yelling in the face of the woman from the left—”I don’t have to do anything! Have to implies control! Besides, the CoronaVirus kills less people than the flu and I think herd immunity is the way to go, otherwise we’ll just keep revisiting this exact same predicament every few months!”
The woman on the left yells back: “How stupid can you possibly be? Herd immunity? This country needs to be shut down until the virus curve is flattened! The only way to do that is through quarantine and mask-wearing!”
The man from the right counters the woman’s argument: “That’s all well and good if you get welfare benefits and can afford to buy food and pay your bills! What about those who can’t get welfare or food stamps? Just what are they supposed to do?”
The woman responds: “It’s obvious, isn’t it? That’s what’s wrong with this government! It oppresses people and doesn’t provide for them! It’s all Trump’s / Morrison’s fault. We wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place if it wasn’t for them! They have oppressed us from the very beginning!”
The man responds: “Just what exactly are you on about? Trump / Morrison didn’t take a vial of the CoronaVirus and spray it into the air! How are they supposed to get rid of it? And just exactly how are we oppressed? The only way I am currently oppressed is by the State Government preventing me and people like me from going to work! Going to work is my basic human right!”
The woman: “Ohhhh you would talk about rights, wouldn’t you? What would you know about rights? You’re a man! You know nothing about what it’s like to live an oppressed existence!
The man: “Seriously? We’re walking down the oppressed road again? What has this even got to do with mask-wearing? And speaking of masks, I’m not wearing mine, and people can just deal with it!”
The woman: “Ugh! You have got to be the most selfish individual I’ve ever met! It’s not difficult to put a mask on, is it? Is it really that hard to do? You’re potentially killing people, you know? You’re a jerk!“
“Annnnnd time!” says the Referee. But the two continue to hurl insults at each other.
The man: “Yes! it is that hard to put a mask on, you idiot! I feel anxious when I can’t read people’s faces and see if they’re smiling at me or talking to me from a little ways away.”
The woman: “Get over it, dickwad!!”
The man: “I can’t! I live alone and the only human contact I have at the moment is with people wearings masks. It’s like yet another barrier between me and them! I can’t even give people a hug or shake their hand. It’s alienating and depressing!”
The woman: “Again—get over it and stop being so selfish, you—!”
“Okay! Stop now!” yells the Referee. “Stop! Stop right now!” The Referee steps between the debaters and pushes them apart. The debaters are breathing heavily, each offended by the other. Both are still facing-off, unaware that the protest down the road is free of mask-wearers. The political hearing in parliament is free of face-masks. People aren’t allowed to attend church, but people are allowed to gather for other reasons. In fact, the hypocrisy shown by a lot of officials is stunning—it’s do as I say, but not as I do! The Referee won’t remind the two debaters about these things because they are already heated enough as it is.
The Referee looks between the debaters and says, “What I am hearing at the root of this debate from both sides, is fear. You are both fearful and angry—you’re just fearful and angry about different things. As to whether those things can be proved or disproved at this point, is irrelevant.
To the woman debater, the Referee says: “You are fearful that a large percentage of the population is going to be infected or die. You are angry because you feel that the other debater is making this situation worse and not better. You are also angry because you feel you are not being heard about particular societal issues.”
To the male debater, the Referee says: “You are fearful and somewhat depressed about being alone during this time. You are also angry because you see no discernible data difference between CoronaVirus death rates and the common flu. You are also angry because you feel that your basic human rights to freedom have been forcefully removed.”
To both debaters, the Referee says: “I am not going to negate the way that either of you are feeling during this time. But now that you have said a good chunk of what you have been feeling, I want you to physically switch sides of this debate line” she says, pointing at the line on the pavement.
The debaters switch sides—the woman moves to the right, and the man moves to the left.
“Currently, all of your arguments have been relative to yourselves. You might say they haven’t been, but they have. You both have a lot of information. A lot of head knowledge. But the problem with head knowledge is that it neglects to feel what is going on in the hearts of people who oppose your point of view. Because of this, we are now going to do a little exercise.”
The woman crosses her arms. “Seriously? That is the stupidest—”
“Enough with the reasoning and insults!” says the Referee. “We have now moved on to the heart. For the next three minutes, I want complete silence. I want you both to lock eyes with each other, and I want you to ask yourself three questions about the other person: What is his / her name? Which emotions are showing in his / her eyes? What were the steps that he / she might have taken to arrive at the beliefs they currently hold? Are you ready?”
The debaters both reluctantly nod, “yes.”
“Ok, you have three minutes. Do not look away from the other person’s eyes and make sure you ask yourself those three questions as you look. Time starts… now!”
The debaters stare at each other’s eyes to begin with because they are being forced to do so. They hate each other. The other person’s opinions are sheer idiocy. Sheer stupidity… Sheer…
I wonder what her name is?
I wonder what his name is?
The debater’s don’t really care about that… or do they? They stare at each other’s eyes with slight curiosity, but not enough to quell the anger for each other.
Which emotion is now framing her eyes? It looks like… fear.
Which emotion is now framing his eyes? It looks like… compassion.
Anger begins to fall away a little between the two debaters. They have gone from merely staring at each other’s eyes to looking into the windows of each other’s souls.
I wonder… what were the steps he might’ve taken to arrive at the beliefs he currently holds?
I wonder… what were the steps she might’ve taken to arrive at the beliefs she currently holds?
A recognition of the right of each party to believe what they want to believe and to speak what they want to speak because they are human melts the final shards of ice from between the two.
“And… time!” says the referee. “How did you go?”
The debaters say nothing, but there is no longer any venom.
“Now, one final exercise. I want each of you to say one positive thing about what the other person might believe or how the other person might act,” says the referee. “If you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all. Got me?”
Both debaters nod.
The referee points to the man, who is standing on the left.
“I can see that you have much compassion and that you seek to protect people from disease,” says the male debater to the female debater with sincerity.
The referee points to the woman, who is standing on the right.
“I can see that you too desire to protect people—but you desire to protect them from any kind of tyrannical control,” says the female debater to the male debater, without spite.
“We could go on like this for forever,” says the referee. “But we don’t have time. However, I hope in the future you both arrive at poignant moments where you purposefully decide to change your perspective—preferably before you begin to name call—as an important move towards empathy. And by the way, name calling is a form of negating the humanity of the person who is opposing your point of view. Empathy, on the other hand, is an attempt to place yourself in the shoes of the other so that you can begin to understand where the other person is coming from.
Empathy is validating and it is humane. Differences in opinions and beliefs are human. Healthy debates are humane—they are largely how we learn to think more broadly. Alternatively, to attack and hate another person simply because their opinion differs to our own, is childish at best.”
The debaters nod.
“The CoronaVirus and the rioting and the protesting, should not be about humans pitting themselves against each other. It should be about standing alongside each other and seeking to find common ground. This time should be about humans recognising that there is evil in the world and that that evil is what we should be fighting… because we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. We don’t rail against our brothers and sisters. We stand against the principalities and powers that seek to steal, kill and destroy, pit us against each other, and cause unrest and disunity.”
Everything has now grown quiet.
“Our common enemy is the CoronaVirus. Our common enemy is adult and child trafficking. Our common enemy is political fraud and corruption. Our common enemy is deception, lies, strife, envy, pride, and every evil work. Don’t make your enemy your brother and sister. They are flesh and blood.”
“And finally,” says the Referee, “Be careful, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
“Wear a mask, or don’t, but please think of your brothers and sisters when you make your choice. For example, it might be better to wear a mask on occasion, because some people don’t have a grid for what it means to be safe in God without a mask, whereas, other people might have a grid for what that means, and thus, you may not need to wear a mask. Or, sometimes you might just need to render to Caesar what is Caesars, unless Caesar asks you to bow your knee to a foreign God. Hopefully, in that kind of situation, you will choose not to bow your knee. But most of all, remember: “What is your common enemy, not whom?”
1 Corinthians 8:1 “We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”
1 Corinthians 8:7,9-13 “But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled… Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”