COLUMN: Hiding our true identities in the age of masks

Does the anonymity that results from wearing a mask give some more reason to be rude?

I am 39 years old, and I still sometimes get asked for ID.

Granted, it’s not a regular thing, but until relatively recently, it used to be. I probably have COVID-19 to thank for its increasing rarity – it’s amazing how living through a global pandemic can age a person.

But still, I have a baby face and I can’t grow a decent beard, so sometimes I still get mistaken for a teenager at the liquor store.

It used to be a running joke between myself and my wife – who, it should be pointed out, also looks younger than her years.

But it stopped being funny (for her) when she stopped getting ID’d and I did not.

So you can imagine her glee earlier this month when the cashier at the grocery store asked to see proof she was of legal age when she attempted to buy a bottle of wine during the weekly grocery run.

The smile on her face was noticeable, even through her cheap fabric mask, as she rifled through her wallet for her drivers’ licence. But as with so many things in 2020, the joy was short-lived.

“It’s because I can’t see your face,” the cashier explained, much to my wife’s chagrin.

In a year as bad as any in decades, never underestimate life’s ability to continue to hit you with little jabs.

• READ ALSO: Masks now mandatory on public transit, ferries in B.C.

• READ ALSO: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

The grocery-store encounter was the second time that week where I’d realized that maybe masks are hiding our true identities. Just a few days before, a friend suggested that some people are using the anonymity that masks provide to be worse people than they otherwise normally would be.

I still think that most of us are doing our best to be, as Dr. Bonnie Henry puts it, kind and calm during these worst of times, and my friend wasn’t suggesting that people were out looting businesses or mugging people under the cover of N95 face masks, either.

But he had witnessed an uptick of people being rude, whether it was berating an overworked barista over a botched latte or refusing to give up a seat on the bus to a senior.

Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe those individuals would act that way regardless.

But if we can see your face, are you going to act in such a way that causes your own children to keep 10 steps ahead of you at Walmart, lest they be associated with your tantrum? I’ve seen enough anonymous online trolls in my day to suggest not.

It’s for this reason that our newspaper doesn’t run anonymous letters. You want to criticize my sports section? Fill your boots. But I get to Google your name afterward. That’s the deal.

I should add that there are times when even the uncovered face can still deceive. The head shot that accompanies this column, for example, is more than a dozen years old. I know I should update it, but I had so much more hair in 2006.

Nevertheless, we’ll all be better off when we can ditch these masks for good – whether that’s in six months or (gulp) six years. Life really is better, less hostile and more honest when we all know who we’re dealing with.

Take it from me, a rapidly aging 18-year-old reporter.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

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