Higher Living Reflections

Unmasking America

In “Masks We Wear” in Food for Thought: Essays on Mind and Spirit, I explored how we symbolically wear masks for the various personal and societal roles we play. We also literally don them for fun and out of necessity like during surgery and to help stanch the spread of viruses.

Mask wearing, though, is a two-edge sword: While masks protect physical health, they can also adversely affect and be debilitating to an individual’s mental and emotional health. That is especially the case for those living in isolation. Masking interdicts social engagement, directly and indirectly. It compounds separation and exacerbates feelings of loneliness, which in turn can lead to depression and worse: suicide.

In the recent pandemic, that was particularly true for coming-of-age young adults for whom interaction is essential for their social development and for seniors who were already finding aging means increasing disconnection and separation from the larger society. Masking, albeit necessary, took a toll on personal relationships and on the social fabric. It contributed to the inflammation of the current epidemic of distrust, facilitating its explosion into a pandemic.

More than words spoken, facial expressions are critical for conveying and driving home the speaker’s message. While one’s eyes might be windows into their soul, they compose only a portion of a person’s face. Indeed, the Irish’s eyes might be smiling, as the old song goes, but it is their mouths that do the job.

Masks muffle sounds, filtering out or obfuscating the tone the speaker intended. Imagine running into someone you hadn’t seen for some time and said, “Oh, how are you?” If you were excited to see the person, your voice would likely be animated. But if not, the line could be dripping with sarcasm. The speaker’s intent might be blurred by a mask because when the speaker’s mouth is visible, it enhances to and helps convey both the meaning and intent of their words. Similar can be said about  Zoom meetings. They might suffice for professional confabs, but they suck as replacements for up-close, personal get-togethers.

It is heartening to once again literally see grins that confirm smiling eyes and to hear lilts and laughter emanating from happy faces. They are like a refreshing warm spring breeze on the heels of a bitterly cold winter. As dismaying as it can be, seeing unhappy faces—sad, serious, frustrated, angry—is also revealing and necessary. Sometimes, the looks say, “Stay away” or “Don’t bother,” but at others they convey a sense of pain or personal grief that needs to be witnessed and internalized by the observer.

Whatever they are portraying, faces reveal the infinite aspects of the human condition, which is vital for a healthy society. Despite our artificial differences created by our passions—political, social, religious—two truths remain constant: We are more the same than different, and we are all in this together. So, when a literal or symbolic asteroid heads our way and promises annihilation, we better look up.

As we emerge from the 2020-2022 pandemic or at least are coming to acceptance of living with it, it behooves everyone to step back and assess its impact. It can be eye-opening in a wide range of areas from physical to social and personal mental/emotional wellbeing. Medically, we can consider the science of vaccine development and how one responds to their availability. Socially, it takes no social-science genius to grasp the havoc it wrought on society. But perhaps most important is to reflect upon the impact it has had in our inner private life.

Having survived the pandemic, consider taking some time to reflect on what have you learned about yourself mentally, socially, and emotionally. Then, step outside yourself and look at others and consider how it might have impacted or affected them in a vast array of complexity. You might learn a thing or two and be surprised on both counts. Perhaps, even humbled.

(Mask Image courtesy of Public Domain Vectors – Link)

You Might Also Like