We’re living in a choose-your-own-reality series.That’s what it feels like when it comes to the debate over wearing masks.
Last weekend I traveled to Walla Walla, a popular tourist destination because of its wine and food scene. I wrote a story about visiting the city in August 2017. This August was very different. Nearly everyone we saw wore a mask, indoors and outdoors on crowded sidewalks where social distancing wasn’t possible. A street downtown was closed off and filled with chairs and tables to increase outdoor seating. Seating inside restaurants was vastly reduced to create more space for social distancing. But COVID-19 has closed some restaurants permanently, including the famed Whitehouse-Crawford, once called one of rural America’s great restaurants by Gourmet Magazine and lauded by the New York Times.
The solidarity of mask wearing was supported by a public campaign with signs on street posts encouraging people to “Think Local,” “Spread Facts Not Fear,” and to wear masks to protect others because, “Behind every mask there’s a heart.”
Not everyone agreed with this. Scrawled in chalk on a downtown sidewalk in front of the Walla Walla Department of Public Safety Communications was the message, “Masks make us slaves.”
There’s a vast emotional chasm between the two sentiments that seems to be at the center of so many American controversies these days: the personal freedom of the individual versus the collective well-being of community and society.
Americans pulled together during World War II, holding drives for paper, nylon, tin cans and string. They rationed food and gas and carpooled to reduce the use of rubber. It’s difficult to imagine Americans coming together like this today. So many seem to believe they owe nothing to society, while others are turning their backs when things don’t go their way, retreating deeper into their respective “side,” abandoning support for public institutions.
Adults old enough to remember 9/11 might remember the collective feeling of unity in the aftermath of the tragedy. In the days and weeks after, when you looked into a stranger’s eyes, there was a look of understanding and compassion. Today, in the midst of a pandemic and mass social unrest, many eyes hold fear, distrust and anger. Not all, though. Not all.
This week’s 360 explores some of the reasons for these emotions in a story about the online talk “Is Truth Really Dead in America,” part of the Asotin County Library’s Wine and Wisdom series. This edition also contains an in-depth look at concerns surrounding cutbacks at the U.S. Postal Service, which will play a crucial role in the November presidential election.
However the election turns out we can be sure of one thing, we have many bridges to build to move forward as a united nation.