Spoons and Masks

The current situation has reminded of a story I heard long ago, comparing heaven and hell. The version I remember went something like this:

A man was praying to God desiring to know what heaven and hell were like. God then showed the man two doors. Upon entering the first door he saw a large round table, with an enormous bowl of soup in the middle. The smell of the soup was so enticing he immediately wanted to taste it. Seated all around the table were people who clearly had not been eating, they were too thin, and looked ill.

Strapped to one hand of each person was a very long spoon, longer than the length of any of their arms. Because of the length of the spoon they were able to easily scoop up soup from the bowl, but the spoon was so long they couldn’t reach their own mouth. The situation resulted in each person around the table starving, even while having ready access to food.

God turned to the man and explained that this was hell.

They then entered the second door and the setup was the same as the first. A large table, the bowl of enticing soup, and people around the table with long spoons strapped to their hands. But the condition of the people around the table was completely different. These people were clearly well fed, laughing with one another, and happy.

Upon seeing the similar conditions, but dramatically different results, the man turned to God and asked him why this room was different.

With a smile on his face God explained that the people in the second room quickly realized that while their spoons were too long to serve themselves, they were just the right size for serving others at the table. By serving each other everyone at the table was able to eat as much as they wanted. In contrast the hungry people in the first room couldn’t set aside their selfishness and greed long enough to learn how to serve others.

The point was to illustrate that sharing with and serving others gets you further than only thinking about yourself. It was only recently that I learned this was called the allegory of the long spoons.

Why am I sharing this now? I see this story as descriptive of being asked to wear face masks ( emphasis mine ):

Cloth face coverings prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading respiratory droplets when talking, sneezing, or coughing. If everyone wears a cloth face covering when out in public, such as going to the grocery store, the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 can be reduced for the community. Since people can spread the virus before symptoms start, or even if people never have symptoms, wearing a cloth face covering can protect others around you. Face coverings worn by others protect you from getting the virus from people carrying the virus.

– The CDC

One way for you to be protected when you need to go out is having everyone else around you wearing a mask. You in turn can help protect others by wearing a mask as well. By everyone participating, everyone benefits.

A modern 2020 variant of the allegory of the long spoons might be the allegory of the face masks.