The 2 minutes Hate: It’s OK to Yell at Strangers Who Don’t Wear Masks

Roughly two-thirds of Americans say they wear masks in public. Unfortunately, that still leaves a substantial portion of potential COVID-19 carriers unmasked. Coming across anyone flouting public health recommendations and putting you, your family, and your community at risk triggers a number of thoughts and feelings. Depending on the situation, your annoyance could range from a mild simmer to an all-out rolling boil. So, what do you do?

First off, your indignation at that Target shopper in front of you in line without so much as a handkerchief around their neck is warranted. Wearing a mask is crucial. The medical community, including White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said in as many ways as possible that Americans who aren’t wearing face masks are increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Even asymptomatic carriers of the virus may be spreading the disease. It’s absolutely reckless to expose the elderly and other at-risk groups to airborne coronavirus — the reason for social distancing and wearing face masks in the first place.

But understanding a situation is important. Some people might not be wearing their mask, letting it dangle around the neck for a minute because they were hot or uncomfortable. Some people may have simply spaced out on wearing a mask outside of their home because, honestly, mask-wearing is not yet second nature. Other people, particularly minorities, might not be wearing a mask of any sort in certain areas because covering their faces could be more dangerous than catching COVID-19. And yes, there are some for whom not wearing a mask is a willful act of assholery. These people are unwilling to conform to a new societal norm and refuse to yield what they believe to be their right to breathe “free.”

Of course, there’s no way to know exactly which type of non-face mask-wearer you’re dealing with. And there are ways to approach a situation delicately before your anger boils over. So, before you form a posse of fellow shoppers to shame them, consider alternatives to confrontation. Start slow, and escalate as needed, following these five steps.

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“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp”

George Orwell