Feeling a bit twisted up right now?

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash.  Editing and text by Rocco Luongo.

Why would someone resist wearing a face mask or hang on to a Confederate flag? 

Buckle up, my friends because the masks and flags are just the presenting issues; the true issues are deeper, more personal, and getting more twisted up.

Yesterday was Father’s Day, a day I affectionately refer to as “The day of me!”  My wife and daughters heaped-on the love and filled the day with my favorite things.  We worked together to create my favorite breakfast, Eggs Benedict.  My thirteen-year-old daughter pulled off an effortless, restaurant-quality hollandaise.  My younger two gathered fresh sage leaves and chive from the herb garden for garnish.  I worked as expediter and handled the poached eggs.  My wife prepared and coordinated the innumerable details of landing the simplest, most complicated breakfast I know.

My personal Eggs Benny

They offered me the full-serve option, but I prefer standing and working with my family.  A great lesson in servant-leadership for sure, but I cannot claim premeditation; it is in my DNA.

I love through acts of service.

A great bike ride with my kids followed, and then a soak, a snooze in a hammock, some enrapturing fiction, a frosty northwest IPA in my Johnny Cash glass, and a call with a great dad-friend; all the things that project my particular art and image of ultimate “Dadness.”

During the call, we compared people’s current resistance to wearing face masks to the resistance of wearing seat belts when laws mandating their use first rolled out.

Remember when I told you to buckle up?  Here we go . . .

I am a reasonably bright guy, although I am open to debate on that front.  I have no problem wearing seat belts, but there are many who feel otherwise.  Laws mandating the use of seat belts started rolling through the U.S. in the mid-eighties.  I remember some who argued that seat belts made you less safe.  For example, you could be trapped in a burning car, or stuck in a car sinking into a river and be unable to escape because of seat belts.  Even seen through my ten-year-old eyes, those arguments looked like strawmen; easily dismissed with the data of the time.

I could see that the argument against seat belt laws had more to do with identity than safety.

I have no identification with using seat belts one way or the other, even though it was a battle-line drawn between my divorced parents.  I had to wear a seat belt with one, and the practice was shrugged off as unnecessary fluff by the other.  The “dad-arm” was, and always had been, a perfectly acceptable restraint mechanism.

I simply see seat belts as an easy way to reduce risk, and beyond the familial tension I mentioned above, I have a deeply personal connection with seat belts. I was in a bad car crash and wearing my seat belt probably saved my life.

I grew up in New Hampshire, where we prefer our freedom served as a double-shot, straight up.  Our state motto says, “Live Free or Die.” 

No kidding. Photo Credit: https://www.nhpr.org/post/live-free-or-die-motto-often-invoked-state-house-mixed-results#stream/0

We are not the kinds of people to have a little thing like the Government meddle in our lives and being a State of challengers, we do not think much of laws in general.  We prefer just to live right and generally view laws as a kind of unavoidable nuisance.  For example, there is a seat belt law, but there is no law mandating people on motorcycles wear helmets.  Classic incongruity.

Now it seems crazy to think that someone who is a fan of seat belts would also be a fan of riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

But I was just such a guy.  Classic New Hampshire.

I had a strong identity as a bad-ass motorcyclist in a leather jacket with black sunglasses and wind in my hair.  It felt great, everything sounded crisp and unmuffled, and it was exactly the look I wanted to show the world.

I felt free, but more so I felt powerful and important. People looked at me exactly the way I wanted to be seen.

Putting on a helmet, regardless of how safe it was, and I never doubted that it was safer, would have changed the art of my expression – it reduced my freedom, and to me safety was just not worth it.

When my wife, who was then my girlfriend, rode with me she loved it too – for some of the same reasons I did and for other reasons all her own.

I wonder how the intersectionality of freedom, identity and self-expression play into things like wearing a face mask, and even displaying the Confederate flag at a NASCAR race?

The Confederate flag is an abhorrent symbol of racism and oppression in my mind today, but roll the clock back thirty-plus years and my only experience with the emblem was as a cool graphic on top of a bootlegger’s hot rod (the General Lee).

Photo Credit: https://moparconnectionmagazine.com/the-general-rides-again-everything-you-need-to-know-to-build-a-correct-general-lee/

I loved the General Lee!  Did I love it because there was a symbol on its roof?  No, I loved it because it drove fast, sliding across dirt roads, like the roads in front of my house, and it jumped, something I tried mostly unsuccessfully to get my dad to do.

Currently in Richland, WA, the city council is debating changing the name of Lee Boulevard to something else.  Rightfully so, in my opinion. Many other cities are wrangling with similar changes.

We all resist change, and we tend to resist it more based on two factors (click this link for a deep dive on managing uncertainty and change):

  1. When we have a lot at stake; and
  2. When the change is imposed upon us.

Think of this symbol as resistance:

Now check out this matrix and we can see how change resistance changes in context with the two factors: what’s at stake, and whether the change was imposed or not.

Resistance to Change
Image Copyright: (C) 2020 Power Focus Engineering, PS

To me, banning the Confederate flag at public events and wearing masks represent very little at stake, but to others these things may mean a lot.  To be clear, I think that the Confederate flag deserves a place in museums as a symbol of a dark past not to be repeated (hopefully), not to be displayed at public events. 

I wear a mask when in public, indoor spaces or any crowded space because I know that even home-made cloth masks reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 by about 50%.  Want the source for that claim?  Good!  You might be part New Hampshire-ite, too.  Google “Scientists to Stop COVID-19” for the details and more fun facts.  I am finishing up a deeper post of COVID-19, and I will link that with all the sources here when it is done.

I am personally at low risk from COVID-19, and although I have experienced racism first-hand, it never played a large role in my life.

I feel and act this way not because these things directly benefit me, but because they benefit us as a society.  I believe that the table gets bigger and rounder when we are all included.

I believe that we must think greater than we feel if we, as a society, are going to get ourselves untwisted.

Steady on, my friends.