You Might Be the Hero of Your Story (But You’re the Villain of Mine)

Is refusing to wear a mask evil?

Our internet went out the other day and a technician arrived to fix it. As he walked toward me on my driveway and we both reached into our pockets to retrieve our masks, he looked visibly relieved. Apparently the woman at his previous stop refused to put on a mask when it was time for him to enter her house.

Still shaken about the encounter, he told me what happened. “I said hello, my name is Steve, can you please wear a mask for my protection, just like I’m wearing a mask for yours?” Steve explained that the older woman grew irate at the request, so much so that he’d left, job unfinished.

Inwardly, I raged, then offered him water and told him not to worry. I assured him that we are a mask-wearing household. His story has stayed with me, even now, more than a week since his visit.

Why, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, do people refuse to wear masks? Why, when it’s been proven time, and time, and time again that masks help prevent the spread of the virus?

Was the woman misinformed? Did she think she was making some kind of point about justice or hoaxes or the suppression of free will?

I can see her in my mind’s eye, choosing the wrong hill to stand on, fighting against a perceived injustice (while spewing aerosols at the poor cable guy), irate, indignant, and, dare I say…even heroic!

Of course she felt justified. She was the hero of her own story and the hero is always justified. The hero archetype, when lacking dimension, empathy, and insight, is as destructive as the villain archetype. Maybe more so.

Don’t be like Javert

You can do a lot of damage if you always cast yourself as the hero. Just look at the character of Javert in Les Miserables. Javert, a prison guard turned policeman, did irreparable harm to Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s famous novel-turned-musical about the French Revolution.

Believing himself on the side of justice, Javert ruthlessly pursues Valjean over the course of many years because Valjean violated his parole. Valjean’s original crime was that he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family. He paid for his crime by serving nineteen years in a work camp. After his release, he was required to carry papers that branded him a criminal for the rest of his life.

Valjean violated his parole to start a new life, which required changing his identity so that he could ultimately do good in the world. This did not sit well with Javert, who could only view Valjean as a criminal, regardless of the many good deeds Valjean performed after his release from prison.

When Javert was finally confronted with the truth — that Valjean was a good man and that he, himself, might not actually be the hero of this story, he killed himself rather than face the truth.

Don’t be Javert. Javert is toxic. Try to see life (and death) from someone else’s point of view, for fuck’s sake.

The mask-hating woman may never understand the implications of her poor decision. She probably doesn’t think of herself as evil even though her actions may have infected a man who was simply doing his job. Her decision that day had the potential to infect anyone that Steve subsequently came into contact with including me and my family.

If anti-maskers don’t know (or acknowledge) the potential damage they inflict on other people, they can comfortably remain the heroes of their own story — fighting oppression, driving out logic, and triumphing over good judgement.

Ten thousand bikers without masks

This self-hero worship is playing out all over America. It’s why we have more COVID cases than any other country in the world, according to the latest COVID-19 map from Johns Hopkins University.

This weekend, tens of thousands of bikers arrived in the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota for the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It’s not difficult to find images of the attendees arriving in Sturgis en masse, many of them maskless.

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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2010 — Source: Wikimedia Commons

People are crowding the sidewalks, bars, and stores of Sturgis in what’s being dubbed the largest gathering since the start of the pandemic. They expect roughly 250,000 people to gather in the small South Dakota town over the next two weeks.

The bikers arrived even though Sturgis residents didn’t want them there. They arrived even though one American is dying every 80 seconds from COVID-19. They arrived, maskless and carefree, even though coronavirus cases in South Dakota, as in many other states in the U.S., are surging.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that social distancing in Sturgis was largely ignored, masks were few and far between, and (speaking of villains) many in the crowd sported Trump 2020 t-shirts.

Ah, Trump, a model of self-hero worship if ever there was one.

The Sturgis gathering is a 10-day rally filled with people who are the heroes of their own story. They have arrived in Sturgis, virus be damned, and when they leave they will have surely killed more than one Sturgis resident. As an added bonus to evil villains everywhere, many will bring the virus home with them.

Willfully ignoring the dangers of a deadly virus so you can play with your motorcycle buddies is evil. One woman was quoted in the Times’ piece as saying, “We are allowed to make our own choices. If we get it, we chose to be here.”

Look, lady, if you get the virus, you may end up in an emergency room exposing medical staff who did not choose to go to your rally. If you get it, you may kill someone’s mother, or child, or sister. If you get it because you chose selfishness over compassion, you will not be cast in the role of hero when the movie about COVID-19 gets made. “Look at those blind fools,” future generations will say, “How could they be so stupid?”

You are not my hero

Can you look at yourself sitting on your motorcycle, inhaling and exhaling infected air, and understand what that means to the residents of Sturgis, South Dakota — population 7000?

Can you see yourself yelling at grocery store employees, gas station attendants, and cable technicians who ask you to wear a mask while you cling to the false narrative that your freedom is in jeopardy?

What kind of hero literally shoots a cigar store clerk after being asked to wear a mask?

Your reality is not my reality. You are not my hero. In fact, you are the villain of my story.

I’m tired of trying to understand the cruelties of people who put the rest of us in jeopardy because they are unwilling — or unable — to see the truth of a global pandemic for what it is — a raging epidemic that’s getting worse because self-appointed heroes don’t want to admit it exists.

Thanks to the great mask resistance movement of 2020, I’m finally beginning to understand evil. Evil is the willful ignorance of frightened people. It is the misplaced rage of self-proclaimed freedom fighters who refuse to sacrifice their own convenience for the greater good.

Evil is the selfishness of people who always cast themselves as the hero of their own story, because seeing themselves in any other role is too hard.

Evil is the weakness of the mindless mob.

Evil is putting everyone at risk — including yourself — because being a decent human being is somehow worse than dying face down in an ICU while your loved ones say goodbye to you over Zoom.

Written by

Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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