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Beyond the Mask: do we really see each other?

Monday, 10 May 2021

Enjoying my post-gym coffee outside a coffee shop last week I looked up and noticed a maskless man drinking his coffee at a near-by table. I got a shock when I saw his whole face.

A face! The whole face! I’ve gotten so adjusted to only seeing eyes and mask that I was startled, and surprised on many levels. Indeed, an entire population of people wearing masks that have covered half our faces for a year has had some unintended social consequences.

As an Aspie I’ve always felt unsafe looking directly into someone’s eyes and learned to connect by looking at the space between them. Yet somehow, with masks covering half a face, looking directly into eyes unexpectedly became natural and safe. I think I can now do this always! Lovely.

My next surprise, not as pleasant as the first, was my level of judgement. Seeing a stranger’s entire face, now, seemed to confuse me. Seems I’d been making quick assessments of people’s socioeconomic and education levels – even character! – based on the half a face visible! How biased and superficial! After a lifetime of writing, teaching, training, on how we can best serve and respect others, I certainly would never have described myself as biased and superficial. Yet there it was. And I don’t like it.

One other surprise. BC (i.e. Before Covid) walking down a street included smiling at others if eyes happened to connect. Now, no one looks at each other. Why? Certainly smiles cause crinkly eyes, easy to notice even with masks covering mouths. This is a mystery. I’ve been extending myself to smile at strangers under my mask but am met by downcast eyes not noticing my attempts. I’ve never experienced this level of what seems like unsociability. And I don’t even know if this is what’s going on. Have we stopped caring about casual connections? I don’t like this either.

I especially notice this lack of eye contact at the gym. My old gym closed during the pandemic, so I started attending a new one when I returned. Usually it takes only a couple of times attending to get to know the folks who work out at the same time. In the decades I’ve been working out I’ve always enjoyed the comradery and friendliness of other gym rats. But now? Nothin’. Sure, we’re all wearing masks. But no one looks up or makes contact of any kind. No one. I don’t understand it. And I don’t like it.

I wonder why we’ve stopped looking at each other. Is it because talking is difficult with a mask covering our mouths? Or because we don’t want to look directly into someone’s eyes? Or think we can’t be seen? Or after a year of wearing masks or staying home or seeing faces only on zoom have we become comfortable not connecting in person? Have we become shy or are we just feeling separate? Or….? It’s a mystery to me.

I don’t like this new disconnection. Makes me wonder if we see each other at all.

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Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.