Write Team: Belonging to a community includes responsibility

After the holiday season, I treated myself to a trip to our local independent bookstore, the Prairie Fox in Ottawa. As a result, I recently finished “The Broken Earth” by N.K. Jemisin, a trilogy of fantasy novels, a few nights ago.

Sometimes being absorbed in some other world can be a great way to pass the hours when it’s cold outside and there’s nowhere to go because of a pandemic. Like so many stories nowadays, “The Broken Earth” concerns an apocalypse of sorts, and I found myself comforted reading about the end of some made-up world.

In this particular story, catastrophe happens on a regular basis, and the only way to have any hope of surviving long-term is by belonging to a community. This is more or less true of any time in human history, of course.

In the story, you can get kicked out of a community if you’re not useful in some particular way — fortunately for those of us living in the real world, most communities don’t have such stringent requirements. But I wonder if we sometimes forget the responsibilities to one another that form the basis of community in the first place.

The main reason anyone is asked to wear a mask is to protect others. Although COVID-19 infection can be deadly, it often causes mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. An asymptomatic person infected with the coronavirus can spread it to others. Hence the importance of having everyone wear a mask in public places.

The recent wave of COVID-19 infections was, I think, caused in part by a general reluctance to wear masks. People are weary of precautions after nearly two years. But the rate of COVID-19 infection in the U.S. has been higher than ever these last two months.

Most people are willing to wear masks in public. Even in Texas, so I’ve heard from family members, the broad majority of people wear masks in public without trouble. Maybe one in a 100 folks will get their hackles up about it. But if you work in a public-facing job, that can mean putting out multiple fires a day as people put up resistance to mask requirements.

During the holiday season, I heard through the grapevine the good people at Prairie Fox were facing down such daily resistance throughout. There were stories of would-be customers storming out in a huff after being asked, politely, to wear a mask, sometimes while angrily declaring their intention to take their business to online book purveyors.

Living through a pandemic is bad enough without having to handle verbal abuse for simply asking someone to show a little common decency. I often see people in grocery stores or pharmacies not wearing a mask, and I can’t say I’m upset with the staff for not addressing it. Asking someone to wear a mask at this point feels like inviting resistance.

Taking time to browse, however, is essential to the whole bookstore experience. In order for that to work, everyone needs to wear a mask in the store. Prairie Fox helps nurture the sense of community that is one of the things that makes the Illinois Valley such a special place. It shouldn’t have to fight with anyone just to make it safe to browse for a good book.

  • Proud papa, loving life partner, and amateur ukelele composer, Samuel Barbour is a local economics professor musing on all things topical, within our community and abroad. Questions and comments are fielded at newsroom@shawmedia.com