Like you, I have lamented the fact that, in 2020, wearing masks out of caution and necessity robs us of the sheer joy of seeing smiles on peoples’ faces.
I saw a lot of smiles recently as I spent weeks looking at the scores of boxes and albums of photos our family has collected over the years. There were photos of family members, friends, colleagues, and some people I don’t even remember.
I smiled or laughed out loud when I recalled the circumstances or occasions around which some of the photos were taken. Nostalgia is one of my favorite pastimes—whether through photos, videos, journals, or conversations.
While I was steeped in the process of looking at hundreds of photos, I began to wonder about what might really be going on with some of the people who were smiling for the camera. Were the smiles on these faces a reflection of our reality at that moment in time or not?
When I looked at some of the faces, I imagined that the smile displayed was prompted by the entreaties of those taking the photos asking the person to say “cheese,” or “money,” or the photographer saying something funny that would make the person smile. Given the festive and happy occasions, however, I’m sure the majority of the smiles came without prompting.
Optimistically, all of these people with smiling faces were having a good time and were happy at the moment the picture was captured. Likely the smiles were articulating their true feelings. Yet, I wondered if some of the smiles captured may not always have told the story as it truly was. The smile itself may have been a mask behind which the person was masquerading as someone who was happy and having a good time.
I wonder if our new normal of wearing a physical mask actually makes this kind of masquerade harder. Perhaps covering the smile that used to serve as a mask will make us take more notice of the eyes to discern the true state of a person. They say the “eyes have it.” Can the eyes—like a smile—be warm, convey love, enjoy humor, express sheer joy? Or will our eyes unmask us and reveal more than we want to share?
Wearing a tangible mask, then, may also be a test of how sophisticated we are at expressing the range of our emotions in what may be more authentic interactions than when we could flash a spontaneous smile. How will we fare over time when the reflexive smile will not be as accessible in our arsenal of communication tools?