I wear a face mask in public settings. My friend does not.

As adults, we like to think we’ve outgrown the discomfort caused by peer pressure and playground jeers that may have devastated us as youngsters.

We haven’t.

No societal issue has proven that fact quite like the raging debate centered around a piece of cloth hooked from ear to ear.

Every time I don my mask and walk into the grocery store I take a breath and steel myself. I feel like the little girl I once was standing at the top of that tall metal slide in the city park (anyone over 30 knows the one I’m talking about). My legs trembled and I was scared to go, but the voices of my friends pushed me down.

I hear similar voices ringing in my head now — scaredy cat, you look silly, why make so much ado about nothing? Sometimes I even see the eye rolls and hear the snickers.

No one has ever asked why I’ve made the choice to wear a mask for the better part of a year. They make their judgments without full knowledge of the facts.

Sunday, I learned my friend who chooses not to mask publicly struggles with the same kind of pressure. I doubt anyone asks her why she doesn’t mask.

I’m tired of feeling publicly shamed for not wearing a mask, she says. The voices ringing in her head probably whisper “you’re irresponsible and selfish. Don’t you care about the wellbeing of others?”

It was hard for me to push past those little girl fears to try and explain why I wear a mask, but our conversation was a good one. Neither of us changed our view on the topic. Much ground is gained, however, by simply understanding and acknowledging another person’s perspective.

We’ve spent so much time socially distancing ourselves I think we’ve inadvertently forgotten how to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Disclaimer: I haven’t checked with my family doctor, but I think it’s safe to say we won’t catch COVID-19 by doing so.

My friend and I looked each other in the eyes and had this conversation while our kiddos slept or played nearby. We didn’t point fingers and attempt to point out hypocrisies or flaws in one another’s logic, and we still love each other.

That fact gives me a glimmer of hope for the days and challenges that lie ahead. Perhaps our country won’t splinter at the seams, pulled apart by extremism on every front.

In this giant tug of war morally, politically and culturally, what keeps the rope from snapping, sending us all flying uncontrollably into an unknown reality I don’t care to explore?

A little slack.

Yes, we’ll continue to fight hard for the values we believe in. It’s the American way. But, don’t let stubbornness and pride become the ultimate victor in this war for ideological supremacy. Give the rope some slack  — agree to disagree with a friend without resorting to feud or violence.

We’ll all be better off for it, and so will our children. It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I Have a Dream is what I hear ringing in my head now.

• Sarah Tarr Gove is news editor of The Blackshear Times. Email her at sgove@theblacksheartimes.com.