Why do so many Americans rebel against wearing a mask to protect others and themselves when it is so obvious it will slow down the spread of Covid-19 and that it will save lives?

Watch the following video clips to give you some idea about what might have been brewing in the American psyche for more than half a century:

1955 Rebel Without a Cause

1967 Cool Hand Luke

1970 Five Easy Pieces

1974 Blazing Saddles

1976 Network

To be honest, this tendency to rebel against authority in America dates back to when the passengers on the Mayflower set sail from Great Britain to begin the birth and formation of America.

What does all of the above mean and how do they explain why so many Americans refuse to wear masks?

The American psyche has always had an issue not so much with authority, but with arbitrary, capricious and gratuitous authority.

That means that since the beginning of our country we arched our backs and rebelled against people pushing their authority on us based on their own self-serving, corrupted-by-power whims. Of course, back then such arbitrary authority amounted to the experienced tyranny of Great Britain that drove people to come to America.

It’s possible that the Founding Fathers might have continued to rebel when they were drafting the US Constitution, except that they had recently gone through a bloody War of Independence and witnessed death and mayhem (not unlike what Covid-19 is trying to show us, if only we will take heed) which caused them to not be so reactive and rebellious for the sake of being rebellious.

Instead it motivated them to be thoughtful and create the Constitution as a non-reactionary, non-partisan and thoughtful document as is evidenced in it’s lofty and heartfelt (vs. purely transactional or reactionary) Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Despite the heated debates that took place in writing that document, the Founding Fathers knew there was more at stake than partisan politics or ego.

That may explain why it has endured so long.

Nevertheless, America still has an inclination to romanticize and even idolize those who dare thumb their nose at authority and the status quo.

Isn’t that part of what enabled Trump to win in 2016?

The problem is that we have taken it too far and many Americans have begun to apply it to any “authority” or anything representing conventionality including science.

In essence, the people who are refusing to wear masks are saying, “We don’t need no stinkin’ science! Instead we’re going to do what our feelings tell us.”

How many times have we heard President Trump talk about his trusting his instincts over anything else and how he knows so much more than any experts.

So what are we to do?

First 9/11, then a protracted and unending war and now the Covid-19 are possibly telling America that it is time for us to grow up.

That doesn’t mean throwing away and disregarding as Steve Jobs said, the “Crazy Ones,” who have changed the world for the better.

However it does mean, needing to pause and stop being “Rebels without a Clue.”

It’s okay to throw caution to the wind to see and seize the future, but it’s not okay to throw common sense… and science to the wind when it is trying to protect us and save lives.


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.