In last month’s issue, Julian Resnick used a particular word in a way that I had not encountered before. 

In his capacity as a tour guide in Israel, he wrote, “I am so terribly allergic to sites which demand of me as a guide to be faithful to a central message,” and goes on, “I am stubborn about my right to surface all the questions which every site worthy of a visit demands us to consider.” (see CJC June 2022 page 28 or click here)

I suggested changing ‘surface’ to ‘cause to surface’, and Julian responded with a firm insistence that his choice of the word remains. The word has stayed in my consciousness and I have grown to like it very very much! It communicates not so much a causality, rather a more subtle ‘allowing to emerge’. It comes to mind again as I write about thoughts surfaced by the Covid pandemic, and in particular the practice of wearing masks.

On Wednesday 22 June, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla signed a document repealing the coronavirus mandate on mask-wearing. We have permission to unmask. Well, literally anyway. 

While the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating and traumatic on so many levels, it has unmasked some unpleasant truths. 

We were confronted with the precariousness of our security, and the unavoidable and deeply uncomfortable truth that at any moment the rug could be ripped from under our feet. Also on display was the profound inequality that exists in our society, along with the sobering reminder that we are all connected. The virus did not discriminate between class, gender, religion or any other constructed divisions among us. 

On the other hand, while (literal) masking-up was necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, the function of insulating and separating ourselves from our fellow human beings surely impacted on our individual, collective and political psyches. 

Wearing a mask carries with it a subliminal message that the world ‘out there’ is not safe. When this kind of thinking exceeds its rational bounds, paranoia sets in, and the primal brain responsible for survival takes over, switching to a fight, flight or freeze behaviour. We turn inward rather than navigating our vulnerability, finding comfort in denial; as if acknowledging an uncomfortable truth invites it in. And so we ‘mask up’. We construct new barriers and employ extreme measures to protect ourselves.

Expanding the frame beyond Covid, it’s a challenge to keep the balance between healthy vigilance and self-protection on the one hand; and faith in our resilience on the other. Sometimes life is tough! No-one gets away unscathed but we are generally equipped to navigate the knocks that life dishes out, and to learn and grow from them. In fact, openness and vulnerability are essential for growth to occur. 

The Covid pandemic created  conditions that serve as a large-scale social experiment. It forced us into a new and unfamiliar reality, and surfaced reactions and consequences that I’m sure will be unpacked for years to come.

• Published in the PDF edition of the July 2022 issue – Click here to read it.

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