Monday, 26 October 2020 11:49

OPINION: Who was that masked man?

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My first introduction to “The William Tell Overture” came not in some opera theater but as a young boy watching a grainy, black and white television. 

With the stirring introductory theme music, the announcer would commence with: “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and hearty, ‘Hi-Yo, Silver! The Lone Ranger ....” For the next 30 minutes, I would be enthralled by the tale of right and justice prevailing over the forces of evil. In the end, as the Lone Ranger road off into the sunset, someone would say, “Who was that masked man?”

We’re on the cusp of the 2020 election and one of the great divides in our country and here in North Carolina is the question of wearing a mask. This issue has fallen in large part along political lines as best exemplified by the constant refusal of the so-called leader of our country, Donald J. Trump, to wear a mask in public unless completely forced to by circumstances. By contrast, Joe Biden has made it a point to wear a mask and to encourage the general public to do so — a decision derided consistently by Trump.  

Our public health officials at both the national and state level have recently begun warning us of a resurgence of the COVID-19 dangers as we move into colder weather and regular flu season. If we seriously want to avoid another major health catastrophe, potentially worse than what we’ve seen to date, the three fundamentals of washing hands, social distancing and mask wearing need to be taken to heart — by all of us, starting with the man in the White House.

Now the Lone Ranger, as we all know, wore a very different kind of mask from the protective gear of today. The Lone Ranger wore his mask for the purpose of protecting his identity, having ostensibly been killed as a Texas Ranger by a marauding band of outlaws. The Lone Ranger’s mask wouldn’t cut it today as public health officials stress the necessity of covering the nose and mouth securely with a mask made of a variety of materials and filters to protect against spreading or inhaling the dreaded COVID-19 virus. 

In a book published in 1996, titled “The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West,” Fran Striker, the son of one of the creators of the Lone Ranger, set out to articulate in print the Ranger’s Code. That code was intended to mold individual character and define a set of personal dictates for action. The code set out a list of characteristics that Striker felt defined the actions of the Lone Ranger over the course of his long career. The Lone Ranger is: honest, fair, caring, respectful, loyal, tolerant, morally courageous and does his duty.

At the end of the book, Striker sets out three character-based decision-making tools of the masked man. 

1. The Lone Ranger considers the interests and well-being of all likely to be affected by his actions. 

2. He makes decisions characterized by the core ethical values of honesty, fairness, caring, respect, loyalty, tolerance, duty and the moral courage to do what needs to be done. 

3. If it is clearly necessary to choose one ethical value over another, the Lone Ranger will do the thing that he sincerely believes to be best for society in the long run.

As our country, state and local communities struggle with painfully difficult decisions weighing the public health consequences and the economic ramifications of this pandemic, our leaders from top to bottom, across party lines and self-interest would do well to remember the Lone Ranger’s Code of the West. Wearing a mask today — whether in a store or work place, whether appearing in groups of people for social, religious or political purposes — is done for the very best of reasons. All of those first responders, health care providers, law enforcement and others are setting the right example for us.

Maybe the next time that person in line at the store or choosing to sit next to you in a meeting has a mask on, our response needs to be one filled with admiration and appreciation for their concerns about all of us. 

“Who was that masked person?” — simply answered, a fellow citizen that cared for others. Thanks for remembering the Lone Ranger’s Code of the West.

Bob Orr is a retired N.C. Supreme Court justice and professor of state constitutional law.