The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Liz Hamor is a third generation Kansan.
“How have masks become a political issue?”
When a friend exasperatedly asked this question rhetorically, I’d already been turning it over and over in my mind for weeks, reflecting on my own values around why my family and I believed wearing masks was the right thing to do.
As a child, I spent long stretches of time with my grandparents in northwest rural Kansas.
My grandpa owned and ran a grain elevator, and from him, I learned what hard work looked like. I also learned about his work ethic of integrity and honesty that I would forever try to emulate.
I would later pass on these lessons to my own children through what would become a family mantra: “No one can take away your integrity, but you give it up freely when you lie, cheat or steal.”
Later I learned that my grandpa also served on the local school board while running his business and raising four kids with my grandma, and it didn’t surprise me in the least. Serving his community was who he was.
From my grandma, I learned generosity as I shadowed her while she selflessly served others. The second youngest of 12 children, she was born during the Great Depression. She taught me about repurposing everything to not be wasteful, and about being frugal.
However, despite her frugality, she was the most generous person I’ve ever known. She was always taking food to friends who were sick or grieving, or fixing hair at the nursing home as a volunteer, or volunteering for her church. Serving her community was who she was.
Both of my grandparents demonstrated several values and a loyalty to community that embodied what I learned to think of as the Kansas spirit: hard working, resilient, compassionate and willing to go out of your way to help someone else.
I believed that this is just what Kansans did, who they were. I grew up assuming that all communities pulled together when tragedy or catastrophe struck, as I’d witnessed when farmers’ combines broke down in the middle of wheat harvest, or when loved ones passed, or when tornadoes ravaged homes.
So when my friend asked me about masks being a political issue, I echoed her frustration, and described the Kansas spirit that I grew up believing consisted of values and loyalties held by everyone.
While my grandparents would no doubt hold many different political beliefs than me if they were still alive, I feel confident that their values and loyalties on this issue would align and be similar to mine. However, I’ve learned the disconnect between what we expect to be true and what is true explains the feelings of frustration, bewilderment and betrayal in today’s politically divided climate.
It seems that the root of the frustration and bewilderment is often more about the realization that people in our lives hold some values and loyalties that are different from our own when we believed for a long time that we were on the same page.
That can create a real sense of loss.
After being willing to consider this idea, it turns out that while I believe my grandparents would agree with me on this issue, I don’t need their agreement or consent to live out the values I inherited from them.
So how have masks become a political issue? There are as many interpretations of that as there are readers. All I know is I will gladly wear a mask to be part of the solution during this crisis, because that simple action comes from the Kansas values that I acquired by watching two of my favorite people when they didn’t know I was watching.
Serving my community is who I am. As a proud Kansan living out my Kansas values, I’m as committed to wearing a mask for the safety of our community as I am to learning how to work across factions and to bridge the gaps of understanding and experiences for the betterment of our state, and I invite you to join me in both.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.