A hospital nurse in Springfield, Missouri was fired because she refused to wear a surgical mask which they had required her to wear as she had refused to have a flu shot. Carla Brock argued that the surgical mask was punitive. She had refused the shot based on religious reasons, and they were imposing a consequence merely to punish her, not to protect patients, she claimed. “If I have legal rights, I want to exercise them,” she said.
If she takes further action, plenty of people will analyze the legal and constitutional issues here. Beyond those, there are also spiritual issues to consider, issues that many of us will face more than once.
One issue is how do we balance the gifts of individual agency and self-determination with the gift and reality that we are not isolated beings but are rather communal creatures? How do we serve one another with generosity and compassion while retaining a sense of identity?
These are questions we all need to consider, reconsider, then ask again, but they are especially important for those in a vocation of service. A teacher bears responsibility not only for his own education, critical reasoning, and practical skills, but also for his students’. A counselor considers not only her own emotional and mental well-being, but also her clients’. A nurse is a caretaker of both her own physical health as well as that of her patients. And most in the helping professions are not acting solo, but work as a team whose ultimate concern is those entrusted to their care.
This does not mean we abdicate individual responsibility. Lest we become like the borg, it’s not so simple as following a directive, to completely assimilate ourselves to the group’s mind, identity, and soul. But neither is it as simple as, “I’ve got my rights and I’ll do it my way. Everyone else must deal with the consequences.”
I don’t have a right answer in this specific case, but I at least want to make sure we’re asking all the right questions.