What if we lightened up a little bit?
I was trying to decide how I would approach a speaking engagement in which most attendees were going to be suspicious of anyone wearing a mask. For me, there was no question that I would wear one (or maybe two), but I didn’t want to start my program at such a deficit of connection. Because somehow, choosing to wear a mask or choosing not to has come to represent entire belief systems and stances in the world. I know this is not news to you, but bear with me here.
I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to smile, except with my eyes peeking above the mask. And let’s be honest, it’s pretty hard to hear and understand each other anyway when in a loud crowded room, let alone with my mouth covered. Further complicating matters was the fact that there would be a good bit of time between sound check and actually getting on stage to speak, leaving plenty of time for awkward stares and firm assumptions in all directions.
In this predicament, I decided to try a little levity. Opting against my standard black mask, I went with a ridiculous huskie mask, complete with the tongue hanging out. Indeed when I went to the restroom wearing the mask, I had to admit to myself that I looked like a complete goofball!
But, with a deep breath and a dose of good humor, I ‘worked’ the room. It’s not my favorite part, really, in the best of circumstances. I’m an introvert who manages to speak to large groups only because it feels like I am speaking one on one to a bunch of individuals.
The mask did the trick. People began to chuckle. It drew them in instead of driving us apart. We could at least laugh together at the absurdity of the whole damned situation. I like to think I helped ease the tension for the smattering of people wearing masks that day in the audience. For me, it was the right thing to do, not just for the safety it offered, but also as a leader. Making it a little bit easier, by example and with humor, for others to make their own choices.
How do we begin to bridge the divides, the seeming chasms between us? This question won’t be solved in one little blog, but might I offer a suggestion, which is as much a reminder to myself as it is a recommendation to anyone else. For the myriad situations we find ourselves in these days, when opinions so easily solidify into assumptions and judgement, might we consider taking a very deep breath and lightening up? Humor can be divisive, so it needs careful consideration, but easing tension that is so obviously present could help us at least stay in the same room together.
This is hard stuff. And frankly, it would be a lot easier if everyone just saw things my way. But unless and until that happens, I’ll keep my huskie mask handy, and do my very best to stay in the arena and watch for the smiles in people’s eyes.