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When the masks come off

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Will 2022 be the year when we will finally be “liberated”?

When the masks inflicted by the Covid finally withdraw, will we be able to return to the current situation? Illustration: star

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When the masks inflicted by the Covid finally withdraw, will we be able to return to the current situation? Illustration: star

Will Covid-19 masks finally fall in 2022? The ever-changing nature of our little big enemy makes it difficult to say whether Mask Warrants will remain effective in this New Year. The signs point to the weakening of the pandemic and the end of global misery is likely in sight. So, will services and masks remain entangled in the long-awaited neo-normal? While many will continue to voluntarily wear masks, many others will abandon the face covering at the first opportunity. I belong to the second category; I can’t wait to completely free myself from the piece of tied fabric.

Wearing masks can exhaust people. They can prevent people from displaying their emotional palette. With masks, people cannot use their smile as a social lubricant, nor can they express unease, dismay or disdain in public. On the other hand, masks can be the perfect gear to hide emotions. They spare the wearer the guilt of pretending. They perfectly conceal their smiles and grimaces, providing an emancipatory shelter to hide their feelings. Here again, in the post-pandemic world, one wonders how the release of the masks will affect our daily life. What will happen to the physical and figurative disguises that we wear on a daily basis?

The idea came to me while attending a college presentation the other day. The absurd comments of some speakers made me wince under my mask. The upper part of my face maintained a poker mode, while the lower part warped like Jim Carrey in the animated film “The Mask”. I thanked the divine spirit for giving me the mask. The next day I was at a meeting where everyone took off their face masks as we were spread out safely. Someone made a very absurd proposition, and a barbaric grin that I cultivated during those masked days appeared. It wasn’t until I made the ugly facial gesture that I realized I wasn’t wearing my mask. Exposed and embarrassed, I thought I would do some research on the socio-behavioral changes that wearing a mask has inflicted on us during this time of health emergency.

Masks have already brought changes to the communication package for frontline workers, who must deal with their stakeholders in a physical setting. Unlike many of us who have worked from home using digital devices, doctors, police, or retailers don’t have the luxury of turning off their Zoom video option or clicking on a reaction to suggest an emotion. These people, who interact on a human level, realized that they had to be extra expressive to compensate for the masked expressions. They have learned to adapt to a world where facial expressions are invisible. With half of the face in view of the viewer, a salesperson, for example, should widen their eyes to suggest warm greetings or raise their eyebrows or squint to give additional visual cues. The non-verbal thank you that was once said with a smile could no longer be relayed. Smilies or facial assurances that were once used to supplement words are now faded into the folds of a surgical mask. How to greet, coax or flirt with our masks? Use hand gestures? Bow your heads? Such use of body language is quickly becoming a habit, because without these communication gadgets my words can be misinterpreted.

The director of the Emotions Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison classified three types of smiles: “those that express the pleasure of a reward or a surprise, such as when you see your friends in person after a prolonged separation (coming soon). , please) ; those who convey a desire to be friendly, or at least non-threatening, which she calls affiliate smiles; and those that show dominance, like the one Dirty Harry gives when he asks a certain punk if he’s feeling lucky. Paula Niedenthal maintains that it is easy to confuse one category with another. If the use of masks is extensive, people will need to explain the context to help their listeners understand or interpret a situation. She gives the example of handling a barking dog with facial gestures. The dog could have been better controlled with a friendly look rather than a wave of the hand. The problem can be even more troublesome in an intercultural context. What if hand gestures that are judged in one culture are rude in another? What about visual learners who need to see the movement of the lips to process a message?

Meanwhile, in the Masked Shrine, a smile may smile to recall happy memories, and her beaming face may be totally out of sync with its surroundings. So, after practicing these nonverbal cues and savoring the secret smiles for about two years, have we internalized these habits? More importantly, the million dollar question is: will these old habits die hard? Or will they gradually disappear?

They say that behind every mask, there is a face, and behind that a story. What stories do we lose when we hide our smiles behind our masks? I can’t hide a smile and expect the whole world to smile at me. The pandemic is giving clichés bad press.

The movement of the zygomatic muscles used to produce a smile has always been powerful. Sometimes these moves are far from genuine and, at best, fake. It is no different from a mask because sometimes a smile is also worn as a protective measure. It’s part of the disguise we put on every day. We post happy photos on Facebook to protect ourselves from unsolicited polls in our lives. These fragile protections have a shelf life. Finally, we have to erase the fake smile or remove the mask from the disguise. But there are people who are afraid to take off their figurative masks, which they continue to wear all their lives.

Their masked existence is no different from the double life experienced by superheroes. We have seen how Batman needs his masks to perform in life. Or how Superman brings his “inside out” to create a fallacy of his supernormal power. When he resorts to his inner strength, symbolized by the underwear worn outside, he finds the “creative” mask of a hero. Oddly enough, the mask dilemma recently twisted, when dressers were unsure whether to put their Covid masks under or over their Halloween masks. While a Halloween mask is designed to break free from social norms for a day, a Covid mask remains a marker of emergency protocol. Their coexistence created a unique condition that made us revisit the double piston of liberation and protection.

We wear masks because we are looking for protection. Masks bind us in various restrictions as the overwhelming signs suggest: No Mask, No Service. At the same time, we wear masks because we want freedom. It’s the best way to be authentic. I can make faces without being afraid of being seen by others. The German language actually has one word to describe the freedom found behind a mask: Maskenfreiheit. You don’t have to be a masked celebrity in a crowd to enjoy your privacy; walking alone in a foreign land can give you the mask of freedom. The visit is your metaphorical mask, a source of excitement. But is it healthy to seek such pleasure? The answer reverberates through the facial muscles of anyone who loves their masks.

Once the mask inflicted on the Covid is removed, you have to learn to juggle between the face mask and the figurative mask. We have to put it on while rendering services like a salesperson programmed to chant, “The customer is always right. Such smiles, also known as PANAM smiles, named after flight attendant service smiles, must be fake for the sake of decency that civilization has rooted in us. However, we must also learn to put such masks aside for the people we want to be honest with for the good of mankind that tradition has taught us. If we don’t learn to deal with our masks, they could very well trap us in the prison of our hearts.

Dr Shamsad Mortuza is the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Bangladesh Liberal Arts University (ULAB).


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