Generalizations are often not entirely true, so a word of caution here at the beginning. I believe this to be true about most West Virginians: We have an independent streak and we are generous of spirit.
These qualities are important when thinking about how West Virginians are responding as we continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, including the threat associated with rising cases.
Health officials agree, and have said repeatedly, that a few simple steps help slow the potential spread—wash your hands, practice social distancing, and wear a mask when in a public place.
There are benefits to the individual of good hygiene and social distancing, but the kind of masks most of us have access to are primarily for lowering the risk of spreading the infection to someone else.
That independent streak I mentioned earlier sometimes translates into of a worldview of, “You-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do.” We also have a lingering mistrust of authority, especially if the dictates come from outside.
So some of us are naturally going to recoil when we are told we should wear a mask.
I do not believe Governor Jim Justice is going to order West Virginians to wear masks. That would make mask-wearing a political issue where we would be forced to choose up sides. It would unnecessarily create acts of defiance.
I think of my older brother, Nick. The more you tell him to do something, the less likely he is to do it.
But that brings me to the other common characteristics of Mountaineers. Most of us can be, in fact want to be, generous of spirit. Psychologists say one of the attributes of that generosity is the ability to feel joy when others are happy.
I think that works a little differently for West Virginians. Our state and our people have known such adversity that we are hard-wired to have empathy for others. “There but for the grace of God go I.”
West Virginians’ response to the floods are a graphic example of our generosity toward others, but I am confident there are tens of thousands of smaller examples each day of folks helping other folks.
And that brings me back to my brother. He’s guy who resists being told what to do. However, he is quick with a helping hand.
He’s the guy with the jumper cables to help a neighbor or a stranger start their car. He’s the guy with the chain to pull the unfortunate driver out of a ditch. He’s the guy with the shirt that is available for someone’s bare back.
We all know people like Nick. You are probably one of them. And that is what this mask wearing is really all about—our willingness to inconvenience ourselves, just a little, to help someone else.