Tag Archives: COVID19

The Mask

emoji with smiley face on mask and frowning emoji with no maskLike 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?

Tomorrow Will Be Another World

We’re still in shock—and will be for a while. While there is no avoiding the effects of the pandemic of 2020, we should feel proud of ourselves because we have been exceptional in finding ways to adapt to what we hope is a temporary reality. We gamely say that what we’re experiencing now is “the new normal,” while hoping with all our heart that this is not true. We always hated clichés about how things always work out, and now we use them as salves to soothe ourselves and one another. We must admit, though, that coping with the present has given us some respite from thinking about the future.

But we know that—like a fast-moving train approaching the next station—we can’t hold back the future. Imagine this train as an old-fashioned one with conductors and porters responsible for accommodating passengers. On this imaginary train there is no hierarchy: conductors and porters all work together according to their strengths.

Wisely, the conductors and porters on this old-fashioned train understand that they need to create different teams to work on different aspects of their dilemma:

  • The first team focuses on adapting what always has been done to the current situation in order to make the transition as smooth as possible.
  • The second team creates best- and worst-case scenarios of what they may find when they reach the next station.
  • The third team has the biggest challenge. They are charged with creating a vision for a preferred future—a future that evolves from impossible dreams and high aspirations.

It is critical that this third team has the capacity to see the positive in the midst of all that seems to have gone wrong. They will use the cataclysmic disruption as leverage to make the kinds of fundamental change that they dared not dream of making in the past. In order to meet the realities of a future in which there are no models, they will make the assumption that processes and structures that led to equilibrium and success in the past are not useful in the new context.

Like us now, this team on the imaginary train barreling into the future, realizes that previous warnings and exhortations about not creating change pale in comparison to the opportunity this pandemic has given us to pursue the “what ifs,” the “why nots”, and the “this may sound crazy, buts…”.

It is possible, whatever our endeavor, that the 2020 pandemic—our ultimate test—is the catalyst that unleashes our creativity and ingenuity in pursuing a vision that will help us create the tomorrow that will be another world.