First, how wonderful to have our dear Pioneer back in action. Without genuine journalism, democracy is always more at risk, and as the OCCC community, we would miss out on each other’s stories. Since our stories together are who we are and reveal our humanity as student, staff, faculty, and all, we need you dear Pioneer.  Thank you Pioneer staff!

And welcome back to Shadow and Light, this Humanities Professor’s thoughts and observations on the human interactions of our community and of our world, in all the conditions and complexities we face together.  Right now, I am fascinated by the masks of Covid. They have become a planetary symbol of science at work, political division and aggression, outward signs of care and politeness, and just some great basic fashion statements. Talk about a small thing being a big thing!

Stephen Morrow won the 2014 Elven Gray Award (Courtesy photo).

I grew up in the world of masked heroes: Zorro, the Purple Pimpernel, the Lone Ranger-Hi-Ho Silver and away!  They were masked persons who carried wounds and still fought for the Good. Their masked identities protected them from the bad guys knowing who they were and helped us mere mortals romanticize about Good standing against evil. Not so much unlike the Marvel and DC Comics epics of today. And as a literate society, let’s remember those big screen heroes of today come from the early comics-oops, graphic novels-of yesteryear, and shall I dare go on, from the ancient mythologies of our great cultures.

So the mask is now a part of our human psyche, that which makes us tick and think and decide and act. Here we are, the mere mortals, caught-up in the great drama of good and evil, and we get to wear masks. I am really super cool with that, but the shadow is always there – we get to wear masks if we want.  That one word, want, has perplexed philosophers and psychologists from day one of human thought. Why do we want, what do we want, do we need to bother with virtues, how do we know if what we want is what we need, are our wants more important than others’ wants?  I hope you get the point. What you want is a basic, core, perennial question of a society’s and of  an individual’s self-reflection. And you know what Socrates says about that? Know Thyself! He wanted that to be a basic human want for all of us! If nothing else, to Know Thyself would be a good start for any complicated interaction in life, including our interaction with a pandemic.

Here we are with vaccines, common sense actions of social distancing and mask wearing, the logistical nightmare of vaccinating an entire globe, and the on-going suffering of human beings everywhere, and that is just with the measure of the pandemic, let alone the other travails of war and poverty and animosity so many face on this globe.  For better or worse, you and I are part of this relationship between the Covid virus and all of humanity, which, by the way, includes the relationship of our own self with our own humanity.  You might get away with letting someone else influence you or tell you to wear or not to wear a mask, but sorry, you do not get to let someone else influence your own humanity. 

That is the point my thinking takes me to: that who we are is unmasked as we face a pandemic together. For those who kind of love irony, to wear a mask is to unmask yourself and to not wear a mask is to hide a little from the deeper self-interrogation of what you want for humanity. Perhaps a decent definition of humanity may help here: who you truly are in relation to this crazy world. 

Those of you out there who are shouting “freedom, freedom from the state”, I understand the core want/need for human freedom. I only ask that you do not mask the core question of freedom: that as a free person, what is my best, true part to play in humanity and this crazy world?

Back to fashion, a safer place to show the world our humanity. May your masks, those real, ironic, and symbolic, always show off your true colors and kindred spirit, lighting the world as you go.

I am always hoping for your thoughts and conversations.

To the human spirit at work! Go Humanities!