On Entering the New World ...

This week, for basically the first time in 6 months, I crawled out from my basement hideaway to experience the new world.  I ate dinner at a restaurant and took my car in for servicing ... both were very interesting and very surreal experiences.

Of course, to me, like the rest of us, wearing masks is a new experience.  The masks I have are not the most comfortable thing I can imagine (especially compared to a life mostly lived in pyjamas and oversized t-shirts) but, like everything else, I expect they will improve as time moves on.  To be honest, as a lifetime asthma and asthma-like allergy sufferer, who has been hospitalised and put on oxygen on at least 5 occasions, they are nothing compared to what compromised lung function feels like.  This may be controversial but, to me, if there is even a small percentage chance that I spread something that might put someone in a hospital on a mask then I will make that small sacrifice to wear a mask ALL DAY, EVERY DAY so that they don't have to experience what I have experienced.  Plus, it's kinda fun to pretend I'm just an average everyday Ninja doing groceries.

The idea of social distancing, reinforced with plexiglass walls is also interesting.  I would not have thought it, but it does change every experience.  Sitting in a restaurant with 1/4 of the number of tables sure worked well to create a dancing area for my active, young children, but as a grownup, being that far away from everyone else is a very isolating feeling.  It is very hard to not feel that you are somehow dirty, or that other people are infectious, when you are 6 to 8 feet apart and separated by a barrier.

There is also an impact on communication - for example, when dropping off my car for an oil change,  with the ambient noise and other people speaking, I had to lean in and put my ear to the hole in the plexiglass and the clerk had to lower his mask in order for me to properly understand the details of the recommended servicing from 6 feet apart.  Now, part of this is on me - I have compromised hearing and I rely on seeing a speakers mouth to take in everything they say.  Moving forward we will all need to learn how to more clearly communicate when parts of non-verbal communication are not possible and distance, mixed with ambient noise, may make hearing more difficult.  I know I use "thumb-up" and "double guns" much more than I used to!

I know there are a lot of people that want things to return to "normal".  They won't and they can not.  This virus will be around for a while.  We will be wearing masks for a while.  Now that we are over the security issues that prevented this in the past and realising the health benefit - which will carry over into cold and flu seasons - I can't see why we'd ever stop.  Many of us will not return to our workplaces, or will return in a very limited capacity.  For many of our children, schooling will be partially or fully online.  Many of us have further embraced on-line shopping and reduced our consumption of non-essential goods.  Once we have adjusted to this new lifestyle, the old way will be gone forever.

What we need to do is embrace the change and direct the progress.  We have a huge opportunity right now if we stop seeing this as a crisis that we must recover from.  We could remodel our work/life balance to reduce our expected hours and dedicate more time to educating our children.  With all the information of all of humanity and human history (somewhat!) available through Google, we can remake the education system to move away from memorising facts to understanding information and sifting through opinion to find our community and personal truth.  As parents, we can take back "raising our kids" from the education system.  We can develop new communication techniques so that we are not so reliant on non-verbal communication to deliver messages.  We can reduce financial and environmental debt through reduced consumerism and a change of core values from displays of success to displays of social justice and humanitarianism.

There is an opportunity for progress right in front of us - why are we so hesitant to grab it?

#covid19 #mentalhealth #humanitarian 

Comments

  1. Here is why I not only hope we can "stop" wearing masks as soon as possible, but why I believe it is essential for us to do so.

    Not being able to see one another's faces in everyday interactions and encounters is extremely alienating -- it's "emotional distancing" just the same way as staying six feet from other people is so-called "social distancing" -- and I think it makes us feel even more lonely and isolated (even if we're not always entirely aware of it). When two masked people nteract, they can see only a small portion of the other's facial expressions. Each perceives the other as less empathetic because they are less able to emote or read the other's emotions (this has been shown in research on human communication, well before COVID-19). There is also evidence that people mostly read positive emotions from the bottom half of people's faces and negative emotions from the top half of people's faces. Yes, “the eyes are the window to the soul,” but only in conjunction with the rest of the face – they're only part of the whole picture. A human face cannot be biesected and compartmentalized that easily. A

    If we think about this on a more personal level, it becomes even more self-evident. Aytime you remember seeing someone, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Virtually every time a person is described -- in any medium, in any context whatsoever -- the first thing we're made aware of is that person's facial expression, or a least what his or her face looked like. And, of course, it's the first thing we see when we look at someone, the first thing we respond to, the immediate spark of empathy (or, antipathy, as the case may be). It's as natural and spontaneous as breathing. "Every face tells a story" is a lot more than just an expression, and one of the deepest and most meaningful aspects of life is the visceral awareness that we're surrounded by human stories all the time, and we "read" and "feel" these stories through seeing people's faces -- even just the faces of passers-by, people sitting on the bus or the train, someone handing us a cup of coffee from behind a counter . . . the list goes on. It's part of how we connect, part of what makes us know that we're part of the human family, the human community. Without it, an inextricable part of our humanity withers and dies.
    It can't be blithely replaced by "developing new communication techniques."

    People can stay "distanced" from each other, not hug or touch each other, and not be able to see each other's faces, for just so long. What we're doing now (out of necessity) is incredibly isolating, and it will have serious emotional and mental health effects -- in fact, it already has. We're seeing an increase in depression and stress-related physical and mental conditions, and we've only been "distancing" for a few months. Human beings are social animals; it's part of our makeup. And yes, touch and physical contact are part of that, too. We desperately need to find a way to get back to relating to one another like "real" human beings again.

    A society of "people without faces" is a stressed (and lonely) society. So yes, let's keep masking and "distancing" for as long as we have to -- but please, let us avoid the temptation to start thinking of this as a "new normal." It's not like condoms or seat belts -- those are physical barriers or restraints that cen be adjusted to. This goes deeper, into the very soul and essence of what it means to be human. Without the glow of empathy that comes from "face-to-face" encounters and communication (there's a reason we use that term!), the glow of our humanity is extinguished, as well.

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    1. Funny ... I was just talking to someone today about the issues with communicating in masked and camera-off video meetings. It will be interesting to see how we adjust ... if we can adjust ...

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    2. Well, people can "adjust" to pretty much anything, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good or heatlhy in the long run, or that it doesn't involve losing something essential (even "sacred," if one is inclined to use a term like that) along the way.

      Through the years, we've "adjusted" to eating food that's increasingly devoid of taste or texture, for the sake of convenience. We've "adjusted" to being constantly assaulted by mechanical noise. We've "adjusted" to a culture that relegates artistic / aesthetic uplift to the realm of "entertainment" instead of what it originally was -- essential nourishment for the soul. More crucially, people living with chronic pain or chronic depression can "adjust" to it and still live relatively functional lives.

      So, yeah -- we can "adjust" and keep functioning. Meanwhile, though, even though we try to hide it from ourselves, we can't escape knowing, deep within, that (in the words of the late blues singer Bobby "Blue" Bland), "I've got a hole where my heart used to be."

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