Who knew a few months ago that we would spend a year, at least, of our lives living and communicating from behind masks. And haven’t they changed as the year has dragged on?? In the early days of the pandemic our masks were bland and ordinary, usually of the medical variety, and now they are as colourful and creative as the people who wear them. They have become fashion statements, political statements, even faith statements. I recently saw my first “John 3:16” mask. They have also become a cottage industry for anyone with a needle and thread and time on their hands to create something unique to them.
Masks have become a part of life, at this part of life, and we have all for the most part become used to them and accepted them as a way of staying healthy. But I believe they have forced us to change the way that we communicate with each other. Not only is it harder to hear someone from behind a mask, but I never realized before how much I watched someone’s mouth when they were speaking to me, not only to catch the words but the expression behind the words. Their smiles or grimaces as they spoke, gave a hint as to the emotion behind the words. The form of someone’s mouth communicates its own message. Someone can be saying positive things, but if the corners of their mouth are turned down, a very different message comes through. Without the benefit of watching each other’s mouths, we now have to look into each other’s eyes for cues and clues. And I have found that eyes too, communicate in their own unique way. Eyes widen and brighten when someone is happy, and tend to narrow when they are expressing bad or sad news. Eyes can dart, suggesting nervousness, or they can lock in on ours, giving us the feeling that we are being listened to.
As human beings we put a premium on our words, but speaking and communicating can be very different things. We speak with our words, but we communicate with our eyes, our expressions, our hands, or even the way we hold ourselves. A wink, a slouch, a scratch, a nod can say more than the words that accompany them.
One day the masks will disappear. When they do, will we go back to communicating like we always did, emphasizing our words? Or will we be a little more aware of someone’s expressions or body language, and a little more savvy in discerning the message behind the message.