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Language—another victim of the current pandemic

Time was when people in charge made rules and other people obeyed them. Or broke them at their own peril.

The people who made the rules were usually people we selected or elected to do so, although at times, the situation was out of our hands: most of us don’t have the option of choosing our parents, our supervisors, our bosses, or our airline pilots.

But historically the ones we chose to make the rules were people in whom we placed some trust, mainly elected officials, experts, people whose knowledge exceeded ours. When a former Connecticut governor shut down the state during a major blizzard in the 1970s, we shut down. When a former president declared that the fuel crisis was such that nobody should drive faster than 55 mph, we slowed down, maybe not to 55, but at least to 64. And when scientists warned us that lead paint was a danger to our children, we found another way to beautify our walls.

We didn’t always agree, but a rule was a rule. And an expert was an expert

Until rules became mandates. And the only skill an expert needed was a Twitter feed.

No wonder most people today equate the word mandate with suggestion—something to be considered, discussed, then summarily dismissed if it doesn’t fit one’s personal credo. Some folks might be surprised to learn that a mandate actually is a command, a ruling, a directive. It’s not a debate topic, any more than the rule not to pass a stopped school bus is a gentle proposition. We don't argue that one.

By today’s definition of mandate, however, I was quite the fool when I was a teenager. I should have realized that when my parents presented a curfew, it was merely a mandate and I could have carried signs of protest, or quit my job as a son. And my foolishness has continued into adulthood where I still treat the tax bill as a command to pay my taxes. Is it really just a suggestion? Something that can be undone by a noisy mob?

The mandate, du jour, of course is the mask mandate. Workers are quitting their jobs rather than obey it, then bewailing the circumstances that "forced" them to give up the job they loved. It sounds noble and almost tragic until you recognize it for what it is: people are quitting their jobs because they won’t follow the rules. And their agonizing "personal sacrifice" sounds childish compared with that of health care workers, stressed and traumatized by a continuous stream of death and illness and driven from their profession to salvage their own sanity, not to a void a needle prick.

(Just an aside: I loved classroom teaching. If authorities had given me an ultimatum—vaccinate or go home—they could have used my arm as a pincushion.)

Admittedly, not all situations are the same, and I don't mean to oversimplify, but there's something laughable about ignoring a mask mandate because "I'm an American—my body, my choice." I wonder how many of those same people who dismiss scientific evidence will someday require another scientist to save their lives—who will ask a surgeon to “do what it takes.” My body, my choice, oh, and your scalpel please.

And all those who won’t obey a mask mandate because they’re "not afraid of Covid-19." who believe the good of the one must supersede the good of the many—should have that engraved on their headstones. Of course, the people they infect will most likely get their headstones first.

The other day I saw a full-sized billboard that read "Unmask our Kids." I'm afraid it's the adults who have been unmasked: the kids may not know exactly what a mandate is, but they know exactly who we are.

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