Your Freedom Ends at My Face!

Is There Gold Left in the Golden Rule?

It is difficult for me to imagine what goes on in the mind of people who get angry at the idea of wearing a mask in public. If personal survival is one of the strongest human responses, you would think that people would grasp at any opportunity to bend the odds in favor of their own survival. Yet nightly we see videos of angry people screaming, fighting, waving guns, and even shooting at strangers when told they must wear a mask.

Maybe because I dont expect much from many of my fellow citizens, this should not shock me as much as it does, but surely our elected officials are wise enough to recognize the threat to public health and would be unified in mandating mask wearing for the benefit of all citizens?

But alas, in our,” fish rots from the head down” society, that is too much to hope for. Instead of putting public health ahead of all else we get one liner quotes about freedom: freedom of choice, freedom of religion, freedom of speech etc. For some of these people, “Give me freedom or give me death” is a prophetic statement. They have a distorted view that being American is an entitlement to personal choice without limitation. Yet we all know that freedom has limits. You cannot shout fire in a crowded theatre, or as I see it, your freedom ends at my face!

You may have the freedom to contract Covid, but you do not have the freedom to pass it on to me. This is civil law and common sense. Your wearing a mask will probably reduce your exposure to virus droplets, but it will surely limit MY exposure to any droplets you are sending into the air.

If for some of these people the law, the constitution, or common sense is irrelevant, let me investigate one other area of influence.

During the shutdowns and restrictions on public gatherings, one of the areas most affected were houses of worship. While except for some Haredi communities the synagogue world was in total compliance, there were some churches in rebellion. Pastors defied state orders and held large church gatherings without social distancing or masks. One pastor sent out buses to bring in many people from surrounding areas to come pray with him. Many argued that freedom of religion was at stake.

A few weeks ago, Vice President Pence, the head of the federal task force on Covid attended a meeting in a large church with a full-on choir and neither he nor the people wore masks. It later came out that some members of the choir had proven positive on their Corona test and though they were not in attendance their fellow choir members who had sung with them were all there singing at the top of their voices and hurling the droplets even farther then a sneeze.

Since I do not know the religious practices of all the mask scoffers, I cannot speak for their motivation but because of the church experiences clearly there is significant support to not wear masks in some the churched communities. It is to them that I want to address another reason to wear a mask, a “higher” reason, often referred to as the Golden Rule.

Its original formulation is Lev 19.18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Rabbi Akiva called it. “A major rule in the Torah”.

Jesus (Matthew 7:12) rephrased it and said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and he described it as the second great commandment.

Confucius, The Analects, 1992 said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. No one of you is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself”.

Buddhism teaches, “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”. One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behaviour is due to selfish desires. — Brihaspati, Mahabharata

Islam has what some would describe as an even higher form of the Golden Rule. Islam has a golden rule that is detached from reciprocity. You do what is right period because that is what Allah expects of you.

Sura 41:34. “Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and you was hatred, become as it were your friend and intimate!”

So how can Governors who are personally religious, and a non-religious president who plays to the evangelical world not order masks as the ultimate expression of the Golden Rule? How can a minister encourage his congregants to gather in large numbers and not wear a mask? How can a person who I am sure defines himself as a decent person not see the obligation he has to protect his fellow man?

You don’t have the freedom to drink alcohol under age, have sex under the age of consent, or drive your car before being of age. How can you accept those limitations and then argue for the freedom to kill your fellow citizen by breathing on him?

July 22 is the first of Av on the Jewish calendar. It ushers in 9 days of mourning culminating on the 9th day, called Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On that exact day in 586 BCE and again in 70 CE, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The first temple by the Babylonians, the second by the Romans. The Rabbis teach that both Temples were destroyed for Sinat Chinam, unwarranted hatred and disunity between the various factions of Jews in Jerusalem. It is a cautionary tale to us in America today. If Jerusalem could fall because citizens could not agree on even the basics and instead of unity to oppose the existential challenge of the day fought with each other, what chance do we have as a society, not only to defeat the pandemic but to survive as a country?

Remember, both for me and our country, your freedom ends at my face.

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