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The Fight Over Facemasks

The best advice for an author preparing for an interview is, “read your book.” I have a Q&A with a bookstore tonight, so I re-read mine.

I found a mistake.

In April my publisher, Changemakers Books, assigned a few authors the task of producing short books about the coronavirus pandemic in 20 days. The books were published on May 15th as the Resilience series.

Mine, Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, is one of them.

I’m proud of it. It contains helpful information and a few people have contacted me and told me the book positively changed their lives. That’s the best an author can hope for.

Since I wrote the book in April about an ongoing event, I had to project into the future a bit. This is where I made the mistake. I tell a few stories about people in the city and how they’re responding to the shutdown and to each other.  I wrote that even with social distancing people were coming together to help each other. I wrote that although with asymptomatic transmission we are threats to each other things still seem positive and cooperative.

I wrote that no one was angry. I had no idea at that time that people would get so worked up about wearing masks.

Of course the length of the shutdown, the insecure reopening and uncertainty about the future have led to a lot of frustration. How uncertainty fuels anxiety is a key subject of my book.

The protests about racial injustice, which no one saw coming in April, released pent up anger which has been simmering for years. Massive collective anxiety was expressed along with differing points of view.

The news cycle is very fast and always changing. One event can make a person angry even as it’s quickly replaced in the media by another developing compelling story. That anger, too, is fueled by anxiety, and I deal with anger and anxiety in the book.

But anger about facemasks. I didn’t see that coming.

The science behind wearing a mask seems pretty simple, and among scientists and doctors there’s near universal agreement that wearing masks will prevent transmission and greatly reduce the number of people who contract the virus. From operating rooms to factories producing sterile equipment, wherever there has been a risk of spreading germs people have worn masks. Always.

That’s why I think there’s a lot more to the anger over masks than respect for the health of others or individual liberties. I think the fights happening in lines and in stores about people wearing, or not wearing, masks are expressions of a deeper-seated anger that has been raging inside of people sure to burst out at some flash point.

That flash point is now, and that flash point is facemasks.

It’s ironic that arguments over masks have become a way to express anger since masks cover our expressions. But I think that’s just it.

Lots of people have felt disaffected and forgotten by the society they see portrayed in the media for a long time. Every once in a while they find their voice, but mostly they feel anonymous and unheard.

It’s easy to see why putting a mask over their face, making them anonymous and unheard, can be a source of great anger.

In what I think is the most important chapter of my book I write how when beliefs, especially beliefs about oneself and their place in the world, meet uncertainty anxiety is the result. That’s exactly what’s happening in the debate over masks. Beliefs about control, identity and inclusion are all being challenged.

As in any argument, more people are yelling than are listening. And as in any argument the real source of anger lurks behind the topic being fought over.

People don’t feel enabled to speak freely, and people think they know better than everybody else.  We doubt each other and experts. People fear they aren’t being consulted, or even considered. Masks aren’t the real issue.

In the meantime cases of covid-19 surge.


George Hofmann’s book Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis is available wherever books are sold.

The Fight Over Facemasks

George Hofmann

George is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, from Changemakers Books. Visit George's site or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2020). The Fight Over Facemasks. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jul 2020
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