As I write this England is on the verge of big change. On July 24, 2020 all people visiting shops will have to don the mask helping combat the spread of COVID 19. I heard this news just before I went into a large food shop. For the first time, there were many already wearing masks. As I went about my shopping I felt unease slipping into sadness.
Why has the wearing of masks affected me so much?
By their very design we don the mask to protect others. Breaking the flow of breath from one to another. In order to be effective both nose and mouth need covering. As I looked around me all I saw were eyes. Down cast eyes. Inward thinking. Not the shining eyes of a smiling face.
One of the positive things I noticed with social distancing people are much more outgoing and friendly. Maybe it’s a cultural difference (I am American) but I find the English naturally reserved. Yet give them a cause and they come up trumps joining together to help. So, when the two metre rule came in although they would move out of the way there was always a smile and often a bit of a chat. Kindness within separation.
But now the smiles have gone.
Covered up by a variety of masks. Whether the everyday paper or fabric we have quirky, understated, practical and colourful. All separating us from one another. Doing what they are suppose to do.
I have to wonder what effect would this will have on our connection with each other. Only 7-10% of all communication are through words. Which leaves the larger chunk interpreted subconsciously through body language and emotions. We read people by seeing and feeling.
When masked because it is more difficult to communicate we naturally fall inward. Just get on with what we are doing. The easy chit chat as we make space for another now lost in the awkward silence.
I recall the first time I saw a person wearing a mask. I was shocked as I couldn’t get a feeling from them. Were they safe or not? With lack of natural sensing I heard myself judging them. If we can’t feel another we judge. When we judge we naturally create more judgement – good vs. bad. After all how many of us grew up watching Westerns – always it was the bad guys who wore the masks.
Now as the world shifts a bit more and masks are don we loose smiles. So very important to the modality in everyday life. Even this morning while on a jog as I exchanged pleasantries with a stranger we matched smiles. There is no threat when we see and feel the warmth of another’s smile.
I guess then we all have to work really hard at learning how to smile with our eyes. Instead of downcast awkward eyes, let’s fill them with the warmth of a smile which cannot be seen. And by doing so – our eyes will reach out with reassurance that all will be well.