Masks don’t work, evidence suggests. On top of that, a lot of people find it difficult to wear a mask. Some of them do it anyway because they feel like they must, perhaps because of peer pressure or to avoid being harassed. But if they just had a step-by-step guide to tell them how to go maskless, they would probably feel confident enough to at least give it a try. For those who don’t want to wear one, I’m going to share my secrets for avoiding wearing a mask. To be clear, I’m not discouraging wearing one if you want to. It’s a personal decision.
Know the exceptions
The first step is to understand what rules apply. Check your city, county/parish, state, and stores you frequent to see what their rules are around mask wearing.
Once you find these, look carefully at the exceptions/exemptions. Pay special attention to exemptions for behavioral or medical conditions. Even something as common as anxiety, claustrophobia, migraines, a skin condition, or an autism spectrum disorder can fall under these categories. Also look for religious exemptions. There’s a good chance one of these exceptions may apply to you.
Briefly summarize your exemption
Once you identify your exemption, practice carefully and briefly verbalizing it. For example, “I can’t wear a mask because I have a medical condition.” The key is to be brief, avoiding details. You probably won’t need to disclose what your condition is, and doing so is counterproductive because it invites people to argue about whether your exemption is valid. Just practice matter of factly stating your exemption and leave it at that.
Avoid unnecessary interaction
When you go out without a mask, don’t make a spectacle, a scene, or draw attention to yourself needlessly. Don’t announce that you’re not wearing a mask, and don’t volunteer information about why you’re not wearing one. A business is not the place to vent your true feelings about the matter.
Unfortunately, there are people out there that are just looking to pick a fight. There’s a term that starts with ‘K’ that describes these people, but I just call them mask bullies.
One of the most effective ways to avoid confrontations with mask bullies is to avoid eye contact and other interpersonal interactions as much as possible. This is easier for some than others. If you’re very observant and have difficulty avoiding looking at other people, the best thing is to direct your attention to their hands instead of their eyes. This may seem like an odd tip, but it works. If you avoid interaction with others, particularly eye contact, it’s almost impossible for you to look like the aggressor if a confrontation comes your way.
If a stranger questions you, the best approach is to ignore them and walk away. By doing this, you’re deescalating and defusing the situation. If it’s an employee, politely but firmly tell them you just can’t wear one. If they ask why, then you can state your exemption.
As always, use wisdom. If a business asks you to leave, leave immediately. If you want to have a discussion about it, take it offline. A business owner has the right to determine who may enter their property and under what conditions.
A word on enforcement
Because mask rules almost universally have exceptions for wide swaths of people, enforcement is difficult if not impossible. Few businesses and governments have the resources to interview every maskless person with regards to their health or behavioral conditions to determine if they are exempt. The bottom line is that by and large mask rules go unenforced.
Many local governments that have enacted mask laws simply don’t enforce them. The places I go are in areas that are under both city and county mask ordinances, yet I’ve never been approached by any government employee about not wearing a mask.
In the same vein, some stores made headlines when they announced they were “requiring” customers to wear masks. Most of these stores have explicitly instructed their employees not to confront customers. (I won’t name names here, but just think of major grocery, hardware, retail chains.) They’re operating on the honor system, assuming that if someone isn’t wearing a mask it’s because they’re exempt.
There’s another angle to the lack of enforcement. Some locales require every business to post “masks required” signs, even if the business doesn’t actually require them. These businesses, especially small shops, have been hit hard by the shutdowns. The last thing they want is to become mask enforcers and drive away customers.
It’s okay (not) to wear a mask
I can’t overstate the importance of having the right attitude. Wearing a mask isn’t a moral issue. It’s a matter of preference. It’s fine and normal not to wear a mask in public. You’re not doing anything wrong or hurting anyone, so don’t feel guilty about it.
Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a mask. If you want to wear a mask, go for it. The mask craze will die down within a few months, and most of us will be back to not wearing masks. But there will be a few who still choose to wear them, and that’s okay, too.