Dr. Seuss once said, “Adults are just outdated children.” Nothing could have proved this point more than the ongoing so called “mask debate” amid COVID restrictions. And no, I won’t go too deep into each side this week because frankly, it’s a tiresome debate. But I will show exactly the types of people who fall on every side of the “debate” and explain what they were like as children.
Let’s start by taking a look back to your classroom when you were a kid, or for those who are teachers now, you might be able to relate in a different way. In most classrooms, the majority of the students, let’s say 60%, are well-behaved. They tend to listen to instructions and don’t make trouble. Sure, these “easy kids” can be divided into the A-students and the space-outs, but from a disciplinary perspective, they aren’t very challenging. The next group is the “troublemakers.” These are the students who tend to be the boundary-testers and always push buttons, whether they’re those of the teachers or other students. The reactions of others are how they base their next step. They don’t have a laid-out plan; they just react. This group is about 20% of the classroom. The last 20% are the “reactors.” They tend to be the ones who are most likely to allow their buttons to be pushed. They usually don’t start the problem, but they will not keep quiet until the problem is gone, and of course, since the Troublemakers are only looking for reactions, reactors give them the exact cause to keep up their antics.
Outside the classroom, those children have grown up and are now acting in the exact same way they used to act. Now, we could really have this discussion about many areas of life, including politics and workplace environment, but I would like to focus on masks. Every day, we hear reports of store employees being harassed for either attempting to enforce the store’s mask policy on would-be shoppers or not enforcing a policy on someone who isn’t wearing one. Basically, if a person isn’t wearing a mask in an enclosed environment, someone is going to be harassed. And guess who does the harassment? Well it’s not the easy kids. Those kids grew up to be either the laissez-faire adults, who don’t really care that there is someone breaking the rules, or the smart ones, who know that there is more to life than getting involved, especially when the transgressor can pretty easily be avoided. Oh, and if the easy kids are the ones accused of not wearing a mask, you know what they do? They put on the mask because they know that even if they are in a place that doesn’t require a mask, it’s just not worth the fight. No, the harassers are always going to be the troublemakers, who have always had the “don’t tell me what to do” attitude, or the reactors, whose demands will not be ignored.
I have personally witnessed several examples of these incidents. I’ve seen the easy kid put on the mask. I’ve seen the troublemaker walk into a store maskless just to get a reaction, and then fight for the right to keep it off. I’ve seen the reactor come close to blows with a Home Depot associate for not punishing a maskless individual. These kids have not changed since the fifth grade.
But the proof to Seuss does not end there - you see, the reactors have another trick up their sleeves in an effort to fight for masks: the government. The reactors will do almost anything to get their way. In school, if the teacher didn’t fix the problem, the reactors went as high up as possible in order to get their way. The same thing holds true today. The reactor demands justice! And justice means “my way at all costs.” So the reactor goes all the way up the chain to the highest levels of our government to demand laws and regulations requiring the facemasks. All this time, the troublemakers, instead of just wearing facemasks, go out of their way to make matters worse. They continuously push the boundaries of where they won’t wear the facemasks. It could start on a public street, then slowly morph into private businesses, until finally, they are just knocking on people’s doors and breathing on unsuspecting reactors. Why? For the reaction of course!
But here’s the next area that shows just how much adults are actually just outdated children. I went to an all-boys summer cap when I was younger. The camp had a distinct rule regarding who had to wear jackets and hats during davening. The rule was that if you went to a school that required hats and jackets, you had to keep that up in camp. If you went to a school that had no such requirement, you kept that up. Basically, continue to do what you did throughout the year because camp is not a place to be lax in your religiosity, but it’s also not a place where you are to be forced to be stricter.
The kicker came when the head counselor relayed a conversation he had with his counterpart in a camp of a similar hashkafah. This camp had a strict rule that hats and jackets must be worn by bar mitzvah-aged boys and up. However, this camp was having an issue that not everyone was following the rule, and they didn’t really have an answer for it. It turned out, however, that both camps had about a 70% hat-and-jacket conformity – only, one did it with 30% of the campers breaking a rule, and the other did it with nobody breaking a rule.
According to a Gallup poll released in mid-July, over 70% of the nation wears a mask either always or very often when going out. That number was shown not to change based on whether or not a state has a mask mandate or not. In fact, state laws rank near the bottom of reasons that people do or do not wear masks. What are the more likely causes of decision-making? Gender, age, party affiliation, education, and even household income are more likely causes than state law as to whether you wear a mask or not.
Furthermore, polling juggernaut Fivethirtyeight reported that a federal mask mandate may have counterproductive results, especially in blue-leaning areas. The thought being that masks are good, but if Donald Trump tells me that I must wear one, I may reconsider doing it. And in a confusing twist, those are both the troublemakers and the reactors talking. One has the “don’t tell me what to do” attitude, whereas the other doesn’t like being bothered by a bully. Meanwhile, the rest of the population, who is just doing the right thing, will continue to wear the masks, whether or not the government tells them to. Why? Because most of the population is made up of the easy kids.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.