“Stay the blazes home,” was Premier Stephen McNeil’s frustrated plea to the citizens of Nova Scotia in April of this year.
The plea resonated across the province; it captured the imagination and gave rise to a humorous bout of creativity. People could buy Stay the Blazes Home beer, T-shirts and other memorabilia while chanting a homegrown ditty.
The Stanfields crooned their song Stay the Blazes Home to a ridiculously funny video. The song was so catchy that my granddaughter, a resident of Halifax and just shy of her third birthday at the time, was singing, “Stay the blazes home/Stay the blazes home. Think about the common good/And stay the blazes home.”
Out of the mouths of babes: think about the common good.
The very idea of the common good implies that members of a community accept a measure of responsibility for one another. Sometimes this means that an individual has to put personal interest and/or desires on the back burner. For some people, wearing a mask to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 may be one of those times.
I don’t particularly like wearing a mask. I can think of all sorts of objections to wearing one. It’s a nuisance; it gets hot; it fogs up glasses; it makes hearing difficult; it’s harder to recognize people; it can dry out the eyes.
However, none of these objections make mask wearing an infringement of my personal freedom, as anti-maskers would have us believe.
Because freedom is not the right to do as I please.
Freedom gives us the ability to make choices and to be self-determining. Yet, as even a small child quickly learns, our choices affect those around us and come with consequences. So while we are free to make choices, even bad ones, our freedom comes with responsibility.
We’re asked to wear a mask not because officials or store employees are being jerks, but because mask wearing helps prevent community spread of COVID-19. Along with other COVID-19 protocols, it’s part of a comprehensive public health strategy.
The purpose of the strategy is to keep people healthy and working, reduce the strain on medical personnel and resources, and buffer the economy from the negative effects of the pandemic.
Leaders in public health and government are asking citizens to do something much more difficult than to put on a mask. They’re asking that we factor the needs of the community into our reasoning and decision making. They’re asking that we put aside personal preference in favour of community safety.
The pandemic gives us a golden opportunity to be altruistic or egoistic. The choice rests with the individual.
With the second wave in full swing across Canada, it’s time once again to stay the blazes home. And, when we do go out, let’s think about the common good. Follow the public health guidelines and wear a mask.
Louise McEwan has degrees in English and theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.