I felt absolutely ridiculous the first time I wore a mask grocery shopping. I also had my plastic gloves on, though that felt slightly less absurd. I texted my mom one more time before going in, “Are you sure? No one else seems to be wearing a mask.” She insisted and, the dutiful daughter I am, I rolled my eyes and exited the car.
It was less eccentric than I thought. The CDC had just changed its recommendation that people should wear a mouth and nose covering when out in public. Half the people in the store were following the new guidance. So my mask and gloves looked completely rational.
I’ve since worn my mask several times when I’ve had to leave the house. It’s no longer a big deal, and I feel safer. I also believe these precautions are part of our new normal.
But have you noticed the condescending comments on social media about people using these things incorrectly? Sure, there’s the viral photo of a man standing in line to check out with his glove in his mouth as he plays on his phone. There are also disparaging comments about how people wear masks incorrectly, or contaminate everything with their gloves.
It’s like we’re all supposed to know exactly how to properly wear personal-protection equipment. Personally, this is fairly new territory for me. Other than a short stint at a mall’s food court, I don’t have a lot of experience with it. So the remarks seem a bit patronizing.
I know I’ve done this myself with legal issues. Some of it is certainly justified; if you’re going to debate whether the government can drug test welfare recipients, you should probably read the relevant case law. Some of it comes out when I’m annoyed; lawyer shows aren’t anywhere near realistic! And some of it is just snobby; my seven years of schooling have to count for something.
The fact is, when you know more than the general public on a subject matter, it can trigger a bunch of less-than-flattering qualities. Superiority. Arrogance. Aloofness.
We also do it in agriculture. I remember being so amused when a teenage cashier thought my acorn squash was a large pepper. I was polite to him when I corrected the mistake. But I tweeted about it in a mocking tone. Someone pointed out that maybe he’s never been exposed to different squash or even fresh vegetables.
It happens on social media all the time. I’ve seen people, who I know are well-meaning and very pleasant, respond negatively to someone who doesn’t know better. I’m not talking about the know-it-all who boldly claims farmers are poisoning people. I’m talking about the person who assumes farmers don’t want to plant GMOs because that’s all they know. We might be tempted to respond with incredulous scoffs.
My point is we all do it. We all have areas of expertise. We all have moments when we encounter someone who knows less about that area than we do. How we choose to respond in that moment is important. We aren’t going to win friends by mocking someone for now knowing what we think they should know.
And that’s a perspective I’ve learned donning my mask. None of us are experts about everything, and that’s totally fine. I appreciate all the professionals, especially nurses, who have taken the time to explain how to properly wear protective gear. It’s an attitude I’ll try to take forward when I have a chance to inform.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.