Do you wear a mask? Good for you! Has someone called you a “sheep” for doing so? It’s something that is happening to friends and family of mine, and it’s very strange. My daughter heard a man who passed her in the Target parking lot mutter “sheep” a moment after they passed. This man was a stranger to her, and it struck me as absurdly rude and threatening.
Is this what we do in this weird, dangerous time? Call each other names for doing what the smartest doctors and scientists recommend? Does this make sense when the number of active Covid-19 cases is rocketing ever higher? Is this how we respond when our elected officials – more every day – urge their citizens to please save themselves from a world of hurt by simply donning a little protection?
When the Republican governor of Texas issues an edict that not only requires masks but slaps a fine on those who do not wear them, surely even those who think this is about Big Government ought to pay attention. But it’s become political, heaven help us, even though illness doesn’t care how, or if, you voted. I give up on that. I can’t stop this ridiculous idea that if you wear a mask you’re a damned liberal, and if you don’t, you’re a damned conservative.
My question is, what can you say when someone calls you a “sheep”? I’ve been searching for a response that does not arouse anger. The people who do this are already very angry, very cranky about being told to save themselves, although they don’t call out “sheep” to people stopping at red lights, wearing seat belts, stowing their tray tables before take-off, or any number of things we are either taught to do by our parents or required to do by law.
No, what I want is something disarming, and I use that word purposely. Because it feels like someone who calls me a “sheep” because I’m wearing a protective mask is itching for a fight, and just might have a pistol in their pocket. I want them to stop and think. Lacking that, I want them to see this name calling as silly.
I could reply: “Good morning/afternoon!” or “Beautiful day!” or “We sure need this rain!” or “You take care, hon!” or “Desperate times call for desperate measures!”
I want my response to carry not a trace of sarcasm. I don’t want them to know they’ve gotten under my skin. It needs to be funny, or sweet, maybe sort of baffling. (A big smile won’t help unless you’re wearing a clear face shield, and good luck with that.) It’s tricky. You don’t want to laugh at them, but with them. You could pretend you misunderstand and think they are on your side by saying, “I know! Isn’t this virus crazy?”
You could also – I’m not promoting this, but you could try it – cough loudly. My daughter did that accidentally; she really did need to cough, and a woman glaring at her mask jumped a foot.
The best response might be no response, but it’s unsettling to feel picked on. Name calling is bullying. I’ve thought of calling back, “Lemming!” You know, those animals that run wild and free until they come to a cliff and plunge into the sea to drown. But I don’t want to stoop to being a bully myself.
When I start to think about the kind of people who would call a complete stranger a “sheep,” I think of them as the other, as “those people,” which only makes the divide in our country wider. We can judge them when we talk about it later with our friends, bemoan their lack of sense, their self-defeating refusal to believe what doctors say, even though they’re not afraid to call an ambulance when their hearts go sideways. But trying to change their minds in the moment is next to impossible.
Online, I looked up “what to say when someone calls you a sheep,” and found posts about the Church of the Latter Day Saints, of all things. One Mormon leader wrote, “When someone calls you a sheep because you follow a leader, that could be good or bad. It depends on the leader.” Jesus called himself a shepherd, after all, and nobody seemed to object.
Then I had it. What would happen if, when somebody says “sheep” when he sees you wearing your nice cotton mask, you replied calmly, “Yes, and the Lord is my shepherd”? How can they argue with that? Wouldn’t that be something even a total jerk might find kind of sweet, or bewildering enough to give them pause?
I don’t know. People deride each other’s religions all the time, after all. The Mormon who wrote that article said, “When somebody calls me a ‘sheep,’ I say, ‘Thank you.’” You could call that turning the other cheek, something else Jesus recommended. He also overturned the tax collectors’ tables at the temple. He was pretty radical. Maybe we should order masks emblazoned with “WWJD?”
Now I’m kind of hoping somebody calls me a “sheep,” so I can try out one of these responses. But I will try to say it with a little chuckle, like we’re all in this together, mask or no mask. Because we are. You and me and that mean guy in the parking lot.