Wearing a Mask

The move to the next stage of recovery from the Covid-19 Pandemic has made wearing a mask a topic of conversation. To wear a mask or not to wear a mask, with a tip of the mask to Shakespeare, that is the question. Reactions have been varied. I have heard: it is uncomfortable, we do not know how effective it is, debates about personal freedom, I am not at risk, etc.…
Wearing a mask does take some getting used to, and yes, it is not always the most comfortable thing to do. Wearing a mask does provide great deal of insight on our leadership style and how we engage with people overall. A common thread of many books and TED Talks on personal growth, professional growth, negotiation, selling ,networking, and relationship building is empathy. Stephen Covey writes about “Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.” I have heard a version of this quote attributable to Teddy Roosevelt in many contexts, from business to improving my skills as a photographer. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Brene Brown speaks and writes about vulnerability as a vital and critical attribute among successful people at all levels. Think about the courageous efforts of first responders and the medical community in putting themselves at risk to protect others. We may not like wearing the mask, but it is the first visible sign that, as people, we care about other people. After all, the rationale for wearing the mask is not to protect ourselves but to protect others by limiting the release of airborne particles to spread the disease.
Yes, it has been uncomfortable to both wear a mask and see others wearing masks because it is new and different. The experience has been counter-intuitive when seeing others wearing the mask. I tend to trust strangers more who have covered a large part of their faces vs. those who have not. It is a very visible sign that they have put the safety, health, and welfare of others on an equal or higher plane than their concerns for themselves. In my way of thinking, this is the highest symbol of empathy.
You may be waiting for me to offer an opinion about people not wearing masks, well I am going to take an empathetic view. I am going to not rush to judgment on their reasons, if they are choosing to make a statement that is their right. Just stay six feet away from me. I will accept your choice and ask that you accept mine.
One of the things I have heard and read about our reluctance to wear a mask when socializing with friends is that we are a culture that reacts strongly to facial expressions. We most strongly associate facial expressions with the mouth and a smile or a frown. I remind you that the eyes are a big part of our face and incredibly expressive. A lesson reinforced by my photography. My friend and mentor Rick Sammon stress the importance of the eyes being in focus and shooting at eye level because the eyes are the window of the soul.
I was reminded of this the other day when I saw someone at a distance I had not seen in months. The movement and expression of her eyes told me there was a smile on her face and that made it feel good to leave the house.
More to come.
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