The Eyes Have It
Learning to see beyond the mask.
I realized it yesterday in my first trip to a market in weeks. An unmasked woman walked by, a bit close, apologizing and smiling. I smiled back, to reassure her I wasn’t upset. She didn’t acknowledge. Then as I walked away it dawned on me. I was wearing a mask. She didn’t see me smile. I hadn’t spoken. I didn’t say “no worries” or “it’s OK” or even “move out of the way, lady.” I simply smiled.
The simplest expression. The one that speaks the unspoken sentiment. So how do we move forward in a society where masks are the norm? I thought about this again when I saw a dog being held back by its owner, looking like it wanted to eat me alive on my daily walk. I didn’t understand, then I remembered I was wearing a mask. Perhaps the dog had been trained to attack those with masks.
Masks have always held a mystique. They have represented good and evil, right and wrong, honesty and deception. What do they represent now?
An opportunity. To relearn how to read another human through their eyes.
Literature is filled with wonderful prose describing how eyes meet. Or how a smile didn’t reach their eyes. The arch of a brow. The twinkle. The fire. The tears. It’s all there. Aren’t the eyes a window to the soul? Perhaps they truly are. Or maybe it’s all in our imagination.
It’s not all that easy to communicate when you’re accustomed to using your facial expressions rather than speaking. Video calls are becoming commonplace, which doesn’t help matters. We all have a tendency, when able to see each other, to silently convey our reactions and emotions.
Nervously biting a lip. Smirking. Grinning. Frowning. Pursing. We tend to use these facial responses to interpret the message. Now we only have one to work with.
So focus on the eyes. Nervously flitting back and forth. The raised eyebrow. The crinkle of laugh lines. The cold hard stare. The eye roll. The lowered lashes. Now, add the body language alongside to help truly understand. A shoulder shrug. A head nod. A fist pump. It’s time to step up our game when it comes to paying attention to human connections. Whether 6 feet away, or 600 miles away, we all need to do better.
It may be a long time before we see facial expressions again. We have an amazing opportunity to learn to be better communicators. Which might just make us better humans.
When it comes to unmasking our emotions, the eyes have it.