I don’t care what anyone says. This ‘new normal’ everyone is talking about, it may be new but it is definitely not normal.
However you feel about face masks, one thing is certain. They are covering up more than just our nose and mouth. While they might be beneficial for slowing the spread of germs, covering our mouths has other unintended consequences.
We can’t see smiles.
We can’t read lips.
We are blocked from natural forms of expression and connection.
None of that is normal.
What is normal is lots of in-person connection, physical touch and smiling. Smiling is a natural expression of kindness, of joy, of our interconnectedness, of the very essence of what it means to be a human being. Smiling is part of the universal humanness that goes beyond culture, class or creed. A genuine smile can be shared and understood by everyone from infants to octogenarians alike, without a word ever being spoken.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a naturally smiley person, in pre-face-covering times you likely smiled a dozen times a day as part of routine interactions with others. Unfortunately, our interactions are now literally and figuratively filtered, making even simple conversations difficult. Perhaps you have experienced your own challenges understanding others and being understood behind the cloth curtain.
For a time during childhood, I had a hearing issue and as a result, became quite good at reading lips. Although I can hear perfectly fine now, I still find it hard to understand someone when they cover their mouth with their hand, for instance. And now, The Face Mask. It feels like I’ve entered an alternate, muffled reality where I can barely comprehend anyone. I can only imagine what it must be like for the permanently hearing-impaired to suddenly have lip reading in public essentially abolished. This new normal is anything but.
When we can’t see smiles or the facial expressions of others, we tend to stop smiling ourselves. When we stop smiling, we feel worse. Our world becomes a bit duller. Why is that? Smiling just so happens to change the physical chemistry of our body and our brain for the better. It boosts our happiness. It lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Smiling even strengthens our immune system.
Smiling tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy, so it starts producing the neuro-chemicals that actually do make you happy. – Shawn Achor
Smiling is also contagious. It easily spreads to others.
So to counter these times of increasing abnormal, I’ve embarked on a new project I’m calling ‘Smile Anyway’. I’m challenging myself to be a smiler and to do my part in shifting our collective dynamic of fear, separation and scarcity to one of genuine kindness and generosity, one smile at a time. You can too.
It doesn’t matter if your mask is covering your smile. Smile anyway. Smile any way you can. Tell people when you are smiling at them from behind your cloth curtain. Consider making or purchasing a mask with a natural-looking smile on it. There’s no need for us to walk around with the ubiquitous light blue disposable mask as if we’re all in a giant hospital. Get creative in getting your genuine smile on.
Be on the lookout for smiles everywhere you go. When you’re in the supermarket, tell people from behind the mask “you can’t tell but I am smiling at you.” Learn to spot the difference between a squint and a smile. Smile at yourself in the mirror with your face covering on and look at your eyes. Now squint and notice the difference. Try other common facial expressions and see how the eyes change. Now look for those differences in others.
These increasingly abnormal times are offering us many opportunities. An opportunity to look at people in the eye. For real. A chance to fine-tune our senses and develop the superpower of seeing, truly seeing what is going on around us and within us in this year-of-clear-vision, 2020. An opportunity to create a better and brighter normal, one smile at a time.