The Mask as Metaphor

Judy Ringer
3 min readJan 28, 2022


I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about masks. Of course I’m always alert to situations in which conflict might rear its head. I’m not looking for it, but I pay attention when it arises. I process, often in the moment, what I do, how I feel, and where I am on the centering continuum.

I’m also curious about how people are managing this whole crazy pandemic world we’re in, and what I might learn from talking with those who feel differently from me. Also, this was a friend I trust to be thoughtful, kind, and as curious as I am about these things.

My friend and I are of similar age and interests, and we’re both fully vaccinated; yet on this point we differed. My friend is more cautious than I am. There have been periods during this past year that I wouldn’t leave the house, with or without my mask. However, I feel more protected now with the vaccine, and not as fearful that I’ll become infected or infect others.

My friend is more consistent about wearing a mask in public settings and masks up in stores, for example, believing it’s possible to pass the virus on even if we’re vaccinated and seem otherwise healthy. I admitted this gave me something to think about.


As I thought about our conversation I reflected on my current habits. I also thought about how masks have become one of the lines that divide us nationally and globally. Tammy Lenski’s post gives a glaring example about how the mask has become another way we judge and make up stories about each other to fit a narrative in our heads about what’s okay and not okay. How some people are “different” from us, while others are “like” us.

The more I thought about it, the more I considered what the mask represents. For some perhaps it represents fear, isolation, and lack of freedom, and triggers a desire to return to “normal”.

On the other hand, for others the mask may represent safety, awareness and concern for self and others, the common good and the willingness to sacrifice for it. For them, the mask represents respect for health, community and life.

Mask as Metaphor

Arguments can be made — are made — everyday from all sides of this facet of our current world.

What if the mask is a metaphor?

I love metaphors. And because I’ve always been interested in the things that keep me stuck, Aikido has been a major metaphor for over half my life.

Aikido would say to enter, blend and redirect.

Enter the flow of energy — be curious, ask questions, and stay in inquiry.

Blend — do your best to understand where the energy originates and why it’s so strong.

And redirect — utilize the energy and direct it toward mutual purpose and benefit.

As we all continue to struggle, learn from and live with this annoyingly creative and frightening virus, let’s practice metaphorical Aikido with each other. Let’s get curious about why someone feels differently than we do (Really, huh!, tell me more about that!). Blend and show them you’re trying to understand, even if you don’t agree. And redirect by looking for what you might have in common.

Let’s practice verbal and practical Aikido — live and give each other space to have different views and ways of being on this speck of a planet. What do you say?



Judy Ringer

Judy Ringer is the author of Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace and Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict.