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Mask Culture

The fear of contracting COVID-19 is changing our basic social interactions. Now, with most people wearing masks another level of social distance exists. Facial expressions which are important to our day to day interactions with others, are hidden. We have to find ways to connect with others in the world of masks.

Yesterday, I tried to hold the door for an older gentleman who was patiently waiting outside. Rather than being greeted with a “thank you,” and gracefully switching places for him to enter, we shared an uncomfortable pause as he stood in place. The door closed behind me and I continued down the stairs to the sidewalk. Despite us both wearing masks, his fear of infection pushed him to keep his distance. More importantly, our covered faces prevented us from using non-verbal communication, such as a smile, to navigate the simple social interaction of trading places to enter a building. I left that interaction feeling empty.

Moments later, I saw a barefoot young man with a set of jumper cables looking confused as he paced between his car and a jeep behind him. Rather than stop to ask if everything was okay or offer to assist him, I thought it better to not disturb him. The culture of fear made me concerned that if I offered to help, he might react poorly.

As I reflect on these experiences, I feel upset and alone. I understand that people are correctly scared of getting sick. I understand that, ideally, even while wearing masks or being outdoors, we should all maintain a distance. Yet, I don't like this feeling of social isolation. It weighs on me.

All of us are having fewer real life social interactions. Some have been replaced through Zoom and Facetime. Yet, that isn’t enough. I’ve been wondering how we can feel even a little close again.

Okay, so how do we connect?

Most towns have a history of people being friendly to others, even if they don’t know them. Growing up as a kid in the 1980s, I recall people nodding to each other on the street. I remember people waving as their cars passed one another.

So I have decided to bring that back. For the past three weeks, I have waved, nodded, or given a thumbs up to anyone I passed. I do it when I’m out for a casual walk, run, or bike ride. I even do it when I’m in town or at the store.

So far, the results have been great. Some people react awkwardly when I wave at them from a distance, but most wave back. I have also gotten thumbs up, nods, and a wink. Now I have a few “distance friends” that I run into regularly!

I encourage everyone to do the same. Let’s come together and support one another. We are all in this together.

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