Masked supporters and mask-less opponents filled the library conference room last Thursday for a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to require face coverings while indoors in public spaces within the city. For nearly two hours more than two dozen people spoke for and against the proposal. Each speaker generally respected the three minute time limit. Those speaking included individuals from Omaha, Fort Calhoun and surrounding communities as well as the city of Blair. The overall tone was civil and around two-thirds of those attending appeared to oppose adopting the emergency ordinance. Due to the lack of social distance and the large number of people not wearing masks some supporters of the proposal chose not to attend.
Listening to the testimony reminded me of the story of the blind men and the elephant. The gist of that parable is that because each man touches a different part of the elephant, their impressions of the critter are wildly different, but all are valid. Similarly, the views expressed during the testimony were divergent but valid and truthful. The job of the council was to try and piece together a complete picture of the elephant.
The common thread expressed by all participants was fear, but not necessarily fear of the same thing. Proponents of the ordinance fear the continuing spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals, care facilities and human life. My impression is that the anti-mask supporters are fearful of the loss of personal freedom, government over-reach and the proverbial slippery slope. Speakers on all sides fear that they are misunderstood and treated with disrespect, bias, and hostility.
I left before for the vote, but my understanding is that the majority of council members pretty much agree with the position expressed in a recent Enterprise editorial. The editorial takes the position that residents should social distance and wear masks, “but they shouldn’t have to be ordered to do it.”
Personally, I agree that we should all take responsibility to do the right thing and wear masks in public places. But voluntary compliance by the majority of residents is not likely. For the sake of the health and welfare of our community, my view is that a temporary ordinance would be a good thing. I know from personal experience that poor judgement and self-interest can affect the well- being of others as well as our own health and safety.
A few years back I was taking pictures at an archery contest and stupidly talked the official at one of the sites into allowing me to walk downrange to take a photo of a young man who was aiming at a target. To gain permission from the official remember saying, “I take full responsibility.”
I was assured that the young man never missed, and I stayed a distance away from the target. I broke the rules because I didn’t think the rules applied to me. I didn’t fully appreciate that taking responsibility might mean jeopardizing my life.
I did get a great photo, but I also got shot with an arrow. Fortunately the wound was not life threatening, but it could have been. That incident not only affected me but everyone at that event. That incident was a horrific moment for the boy’s mother and traumatic for the young man. Weeks later the boy’s father asked me to meet with his son to assure him that I was okay. I gladly did so, and returned the young man’s arrow. I am grateful that the family forgave my foolish effort to make a great photo. It was a lesson learned, but it could have been tragic.
One of the speakers at the hearing commented that when you cross medicine and politics, you get politics. That is probably true, and it is inevitable. To quote John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” We are all dependent on one another to do the right thing. The problem is figuring out what that right thing is.