My husband and I are discussing the latest CDC recommendation to wear masks when out in public. It prompts a philosophical conversation around individual choice and belonging. In the end, my husband determines, that while personally he does not feel called to wear a mask, he would do it to “blend in.” 

Blending in.

Is this not the catch phrase for all of the things we as human beings do to not stick out, disturb or generate the “wrong” optics? Might this be precisely the most difficult of all dilemmas anyone of us will ever face who chooses to know themselves unto themselves?

To be clear, this is not a debate on the rightness or the wrongness of masks. Instead, it is an exploration around the nature of being an individual, a true and authentic individual, and what it means to belong from that place. As opposed to all of the shaving and distorting and acquiescing we do out of deep-seated fears around being shunned, shamed or left out. It is a hard look at all of the things each and every one of us does, every single day, to fit in. To avoid rocking the boat; garnering the disapproval of those around us.

To question your place in the scheme of things. To wonder what it means to be true to yourself. And then, to go on to do it all while remaining desirous of belonging is the making of not only a genuine and satisfying life, but it is absolutely the most essential stuff required for the making of a healthy, vibrant and flourishing community. For the truth is, there must be a challenge to the status quo. Otherwise our institutions, families, groups and communities wind up stale to fresh ideas, suffocating of individual expression and tyrannical and narrow-minded in structure and expectation.

Think for a moment. Who are your heroes? Your thought leaders? What would our world be like had even one of them not allowed their ideas and sensibilities to see the light of day? What would have been lost had any one of these true and unique individuals allowed the prevailing attitudes and customs of the times to squash what was unpopular, heretical or unfamiliar?

The challenging part here is that this is not a one-time choice. And there is no definitive response or line to be drawn that will hold true for all times and for all situations. This can leave it looking like there are no rules, and that therefore, the ways of the individual are undermining of the public good. This could not be further from the truth. For although the journey of the individual choosing authenticity may not always be recognizable to the group, or will not always look the same for everyone, there is one irrefutable truth you can count on.That being, that when an individual is truly choosing for their highest and best good, it will always, always, be in the highest and best good of all.

But for the group mind, the mind based on fear, consensus thinking and safety in numbers mentality, this can feel feel too unknown, too uncertain, too chaotic, too uncontrollable, and therefore too dangerous to consider. 

Why? Because we are talking about nothing less than people deciding their own minds. Nothing less than being unable to control or distort what is new, different, unfamiliar or downright opposed to how things are currently being done. Nothing less than getting comfortable with other people doing things differently than us and seeing it as a value. Nothing less than trusting our own process, along with the processes of those around us. Nothing less than full on faith and the recognition that when we support ourselves in our highest expression, while doing the same for those around us, ultimately, ultimately, we will get to the very best of who we are both individually and collectively.

But this will take time. And effort. And faith. And courage. And support. And it can only actually begin within and around us when we come to value our unique expressions right alongside our deep yearning and need to belong from that place, and that place only.

To wear a mask or not. On some deeply personal and communal level, is this not the question we are all faced with? And is this not an answer that each and every one of us must come to on our own?