I know it is unnerving to most of us, but isn’t it kind of funny as well, that we as a society have taken on the roll of some form of a futuristic dystopian world amid Covid 19, and have now become a “masked” society. Everywhere we go and whatever we do, wearing masks is required for protecting each other from the novel virus. I can wager, if I was a gambling man, that mass retailers never imagined that the next big thing raising their profit margins would be masks. Hospital masks of all types and flavors. Plain ones, colorful ones, ones with pictures on them like: Santa Clause, a big pair of lips, or pictures of the stars. And then there are the ones with words written on them, such as: “add your text here,” or, “this mask is useless.” If I could write my own I think it would say, “sorry, I’m a lip reader.”
This is where it becomes aggravating for people like you and I. People who need to communicate with others on a daily basis. Whether it is serious conversations or just lighthearted babble between two friends or loved ones. We are not used to communicating with others without being able to read their facial expressions. Facial expressions are important and necessary in our being able to understand better what a person is seeking to communicate with us. Communication is hard enough as it is, most times we don’t hear correctly what someone is trying to tell us.
I remember an example from a course I took in college on communication. The professor was showing how a simple conversation between two people can easily and rather quickly move far away from what the original point was. The visual showed a person talking and his words going through, what was called, “the noise box.” The other person then received these words, but with a totally different understanding. This second person interpreted what was said by what they perceived and responded. Their response, then going through the noise box back to the other person, was received with expressions of bewilderment!
We often interpret things people say incorrectly because we do not listen well and the noise box often changes what a person actually said into what we “think” they said, and then we respond to that. This is already problematic, now add masks! We have this problem already without our faces being covered, how much more do masks hinder us from communicating well? I share this quote from one article I have read online:
“The expressions we see in the faces of others engage a number of different cognitive processes. Emotional expressions elicit rapid responses, which often imitate the emotion in the observed face. These effects can even occur for faces presented in such a way that the observer is not aware of them. We are also very good at explicitly recognizing and describing the emotion being expressed.” View article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781887/
Some cultures have mask wearing instilled in their way of life and have found ways to communicate effectively regardless, but to us here in America and other parts of the world, this is brand new and radically different than anything we have ever experienced. Does the Bible have anything to add to our conversation? It sure does, let’s take a look.
In regards to our facial expressions and how they transmit intentions and emotions to others, we find many verses in scripture. Psalm 119:136; 31:19, express eyes shedding tears in sorrow or great grief. Proverbs 10:10 speaks of the winking eye causing trouble. Proverbs 23:29 of the redness of the eyes that one experiences from drunkenness, and Proverbs 6:25 of the prostitute leading a man astray with her “eyelids.”
Our lips often tell a story as well, for instance Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:13, “was speaking with her heart, only her lips were moving.” Habakkuk 3:16 tells of “quivering lips.” Wearing a mask places a physical barrier between us and the person we are speaking to. There is no question that being able to see a persons facial expressions greatly enhances our ability to communicate quickly and effectively.
Observing mouth movement is more important than we might think, according to Sarah Gallant, Spoken-English Communications expert: “Speaker mouth movement is absolutely critical for helping the listener focus on an absorb the information. If the speaker mumbles or doesn’t enunciate clearly, the listener may either struggle to understand the speaker, or worse, begin to think about dinner. Is this efficient or effective communication?” Check out her article here:
Try being a school bus driver and communicate effectively with kindergarten age children or any child for that matter. Take it from me, it can become burdensome quickly. Children, especially, need to be able to read our facial expressions to understand what we are saying and sometimes the mood we are expressing, i.e. joy or anger. Take this example of a normal conversation on any given day of the week by any school bus driver: “Bus driver.” “Yes.” “Bus driver.” “What’s up buddy?” “Bus driver, Joey. . . ” and everything gets muffled. “Bus driver.” “Yes, I hear you, can you speak louder and slower please?” “Bus driver. . . .” “What was that?”
Irregardless of our present circumstances, let me encourage you to pursue, with greater diligence, communication with others that reflects the character and purpose of our God. The Psalmist said it well: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Masks on or masks off, this should be our desire. So, let me share a few things that I have been reminded of from scripture, that I believe can help us orientate our thinking rightly so our speech is always gracious and edifying to those we are speaking to (Colossians 4:6).
Do not speak harshly. I admit that I struggle with this. After several attempts to get a person to clearly hear and understand what I am saying, I get agitated. I’m frustrated they “don’t get it.” I realize it’s not their fault, the problem is the mask. The uncomfortable, face concealing mask. Even so, we are “not to let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Be patient and really listen. As I wrote earlier in regards to the noise box, we often filter what people are saying through the noise of preconceived ideas, expectations, or myriads of other things. Take the time to listen more intentionally and the conversation will go better. “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
Wisdom in silence. If we can get the idea of the above settled in our thinking and active in our practice, using words with more restraint might be a blessing! “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:27-28).
So, I leave you now to go back out into a world where masks have become the manner in which we recognize someone else. “Hey, that’s Tom.” “What was that?”