The term politics and the practice of politics, especially these days, almost by default gets a bad rap. Say someone is guilty of "dirty politics" and you're accused of being redundant.
But we know politics goes far beyond the partisan political realm. Anywhere there is backstabbing and innuendo and one-upmanship and rumors and gossip and brown-nosers and "sidlers" who try to take credit for work that is not theirs, it's politics. If these things are occurring with your relatives and loved ones, it's family politics. If you're enduring these kinds of things at work, or even exhibiting some of the questionable behaviors yourself, it's office politics.
And lately, we've embarked on and continued to be embroiled in a new category of politics: Mask politics.
It's crazy, isn't it? All of this. Just imagine, as recently as Valentine's Day, and you're out for a romantic evening with a new love interest. There are drinks and chit-chat followed by an elegant dinner at a restaurant, and then by dancing at a bustling club. A minuscule three-and-a-half-months later and you're still together and even enjoying the tail end of your honeymoon phase as a couple where everything is bright and shiny and glowing and neither one of you can do no wrong...but your most recent night out involved no drinks, no dinner, and no dancing, but instead had the two of you breaking quarantine to join thousands in the streets protesting and proudly and defiantly violating the recently imposed 7 p.m. curfew. Imagine if, on that soft-focus, googly-eyed romance-fest on Feb. 14, some future-seer telling you young lovebirds that before summer even officially arrives, your days will be filled with quarantines, protests in the streets, and mandated curfews.
After dismissing the dire predictions of this obviously batty person, you might find yourself at least giving him the opportunity to further make his case. "Why?" you might inquire.
Imagine the answer. And then imagine the person who knows what will transpire between mid-February and early June adding, "Oh, and one of the most important and, depending on the type of person you are, stressful decisions you'll make on multiple occasions each day is whether or not to wear your mask."
And, then, POOF!, he's gone. And you're left looking at each other through perplexed eyes, wondering why anyone would be concerned with wearing a mask when Halloween is many months away.
Mask politics. I'm guilty as charged, your honor. But not for the reasons that are getting all the attention. I may have been hesitant in recent weeks to put on my mask when entering a store, but it's not because it made me feel emasculated...you know, like less than a 100% tough guy not afraid to breathe in the potentially deadly air, and then exhale it. It's not because I wanted to avoid coming across as some sort of "snowflake" that would glimmer like a beacon in the night for some MAGA Trumpster to lob insults at.
It just felt weird. For 50 years I couldn't recall ever wearing a mask that didn't involve costume parties and trick-or-treating and candy on the last day of October, and now I'm supposed to put on one to protect my air space from others, and their air space from me?
My wife and I were proactive, at least, in our preparation. We purchased two hand-crafted, legitimate masks, and when we went out, they were with us, in the vehicle. And when we arrived someplace, we'd exit the vehicle with our masks in hand. But, then, when we went into the hardware store or the grocery store or wherever, we'd sort of gauge the room. Mask-wearers in the majority? The minority? Whichever it was, we became sheep and went with the flock. If it was closer to 50/50, we sided with the maskless.
But no more of that silliness. A long weekend in Duluth was all it took. Every place of business we patronized over those four days, faces covered by masks significantly outnumbered those not covered, and it became easier and easier to simply hook the straps behind our ears and do the smart thing.
Soon, it felt good, almost empowering. Staff at each stop were fully masked, so why couldn’t we as their customers show the same respect and care?
Then I started noticing the non-masked, and it was, for me, like looking in the mirror a few weeks ago. The guilt just below the surface. Maybe even a tinge of shame?
I wanted to enthusiastically embrace them and say, “I’ve been you, brother!” (Or Sister.) But every time I tried to say anything my sunglasses fogged up.
But, hey, a small price to pay, am I right?