Is empathy enforceable?

I would like to thank the Greene County board of supervisors for unanimously approving a mask mandate for Greene County last week.

This is a signal to our communities that we care, that we listen to medical professionals and scientists, and that we believe in one another to do the right thing for each other. 

As a city councilman, I am appreciative of the support this provides to our hospital and to business owners in Jefferson. I know many that have struggled with how to go about asking folks to wear a face covering when inside their place of business. This mandate gives them extra backing and confidence when looking out for the safety of their employees and customers. 

Upon the news of the supervisors’ unanimous vote going public, commentary resurfaced about its inability to be enforced, much like we have seen and continue to see regarding the governor’s actions on the matter: “Good luck enforcing THAT.” “Well, there’s no teeth in it, so?” Etc., etc. 

Which has me wondering: 

Do you only drive through the school zone on a Monday morning at 25 mph because if you drive faster you’ll get a ticket? Or do you also slow down more because children are crossing the roads on bike and foot?

Not everything we do for the benefit of the good should require a punishment if we don’t do it. 

Relatively speaking, the sacrifices of wearing a mask and not gathering in large groups are quite small favors to ask, especially considering what is at stake. These are small sacrifices that medical professionals and scientists tell us can make all the difference in saving lives right now, lessoning the burden on hospitals, and in turn giving doctors and nurses a much-needed reprieve from this daunting twist in their careers and lives overall. 

Discussions about a vaccine have been at the forefront of many folks’ mind. Regardless of how you feel about vaccines, and specifically a COVID-19 vaccine, we are told it will be many, many months before there will be widespread availability. 

The good news is, something with a similar effect lies within every one of us at this very moment: empathy. 

Empathy (noun): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

• For example: Are you worried that wearing a mask will lead to rights being taken away?

Does this perceived threat truly override the reality that doctors are telling us this is happening right now — as in, literally while you read this? That masks do in fact help lessen the spread of this virus. 

Of course, nobody wants rights taken away, but we live in one of the freest countries in the world, and we are not actually taking this advice from politicians, rather, doctors whose job and only interest is to keep us healthy. The advice of wearing a mask comes from the same doctors that recommend eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water — none of which have taken away, or led to any infringement of rights. 

This chapter in history is far from over; we have the power to speed the story up and end it sooner. We can show empathy for one another by masking up and staying away from large groups.

We can also hold our politicians accountable to listen to medical professionals and scientists when making public health policies. 

Understanding that acting in the interest of the greater good, rather than only for ourselves has not been this poignant of a thread in our society’s fabric in decades.

A good needling of empathy can literally mean the difference between life and death for our family and friends right here in Greene County. 

Thank you, Greene County board of supervisors, for listening to the experts, leading with empathy, and in turn, protecting the citizens of Greene County.

Matt Wetrich serves on the Jefferson city council.

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