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  • Reverend James Squire

Parable of the Mask

Updated: Feb 14, 2021



Jesus must have been a lateral thinker for he uses parables to get his points across. A parable is a simple story to make a deeper moral point. Instead of saying the Kingdom of God starts small and grows into something large, he refers to a mustard seed as a small thing that grows into a large tree. For each of his messages he helps people to see what he is talking about in a different way. Lateral thinking is solving a problem or addressing a situation by an indirect and creative approach. It is typically done through viewing the problem or situation in a new and unusual light. This was the foundation of His teachings.


Lateral thinking can be taught. It can be done through various exercises that I gleaned from a textbook used at Penn in my Ethics classes. The text is Pumping Ions by Tom Wujec. It helped the students in their moral thinking in approaching different problems. Students loved using lateral thinking skills to solve dilemmas in the same way that others love to solve riddles. Below are some examples of lateral thinking.


We now take for granted that every time we turn around during the Pandemic that we have hand sanitizer available to us. Atul Gwande, a surgeon and author, was confronted with a high rate of infections years ago in the hospital in which he was working. He installed hand sanitizer pumps outside of each hospital room with signs instructing everyone to use them before entering the room. The infection rate in the hospital dropped in a remarkable fashion. Nobody had thought that something so simple could reduce the infection rate so dramatically and now hand sanitizers are commonplace.


One of the most profitable items in the 3M company are their post it notes. Everyone just assumes that they were made to perform the function that they have today to be stuck in places to help us remember things. As it turns out the post it notes were discovered by accident. One of the researchers at 3M was attempting to create a super strong adhesive that would stick two things together so that it would it would form a strong bond. The glue that he made, however, was a low tack reusable pressure sensitive adhesive that would hold only just enough to keep a piece of paper in place but could be removed easily as well. One of the researchers involved sung in a choir and used small pieces of paper with this newly formed substance to hold his place in his hymnal. He could remove it from his hymnal after the service and then could reuse them over and over again. It is currently one of 3M’s best sellers.


One of my pet peeves is waiting for a slow elevator particularly now when only a few people at a time can enter them because of social distance rules. The answer that would first come to mind would be to find a faster motor. Right? Not necessarily. Maybe that is not the real problem. Let’s look at it another way. Maybe the problem is that I am bored while waiting for the elevator. The answer was to put a mirror near the elevator doors to draw peoples’ attention. Another way of addressing the issue of waiting once inside was through music. Have you ever wondered why “elevator music” was installed? It helped to pass the time once you got in the elevator.


We have been living and dying in the year 2020 with the ravages of a pandemic that has made us sick, killed us, forced us inside, caused great fatigue, destroyed our economy, and made us as afraid as we could be. One of the reasons that this has been terribly difficult is that, even though a vaccine has been found, we just don’t know when all of this will end. The goal posts are always moving on us.


We have been told to wear masks, but some say they are not doing any good. The time to wear the masks, however, has been too open ended. We can do anything if we know the answer to the important question. How long do I have to wear it? What if it isn’t about the masks even though mask wearing has become political. What if it is really about the duration of the time to wear them, not forever but for a definite time. Joe Biden tells all of us to wear the masks for 100 days when he begins his Presidency. He is helping us to see it differently. I bet this will get more, not all, to put them on. I bet that people see the difference that this will make. That difference will change our thinking about mask wearing. He is a problem solver. He used lateral thinking. We could create a simple story that points to a more responsible moral action. We may even want to call it the Parable of the Mask.

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