This article was originally written by the author in 2020. It was rewritten for The Missing Link in Nov-2021.

My friends and I got together for a meal after almost 2 years. While reminiscing our Covid experiences, which also involved teaching online classes, the conversation inevitably turned to the subject of teaching F2F with a mask and creating caring classrooms! As a group of high school educators, we were sure that this would be the greatest challenge of our teaching career second only to online teaching. Even though we were all looking forward to F2F teaching, we had qualms about doing it with “masks”. Education is predominantly a communication and relational vocation. Adorning masks muffle speech, create discomfort and hinder the visual communication tools that educators normally rely on. We sighed as we wondered how to embrace the mask, adapt, and succeed during the pandemic. My friend verbalized her frustration, “When this was all over” we would all go back to leading normal lives without masks! Deep down, I wondered if things would ever get back to normal! Perhaps years from now all of this would even be a part of a future curriculum! 

Masks cover the lower half of the face; teachers and students naturally become more aware of upper facial expressions. We discussed how necessary it was to exaggerate to communicate clearly while wearing a mask. While continuing to use natural facial expressions like smiling we are more inclined to intensify eye gestures and eyebrow movements to connect with the listeners. As the mask covers the mouth, teachers will have to stay close to their listeners, pronounce slowly, articulate clearly and use the correct voice modulation to still be heard through the mask. The key here is – to go beyond their natural genuine self to communicate and be understood. 

We have all been wearing face masks for almost two years now. Masks come in all colours and designs, so much so that we have started colour coordinating our masks with what we wear! We have so grown accustomed to these physical masks that we have been forced to wear to protect ourselves physically from a deadly virus in the current pandemic that we have started feeling comfortable “behind the masks”. However, long before the Coronavirus struck and shocked our world, many of us were already wearing masks in public.

The dictionary defines a mask as a covering for all or part of the face that is worn as a disguise used to amuse or terrify people. What is our mask really covering below the required masks we wear today? Do we wear different masks? Why do we wear these emotional masks? Should we even wear one for survival? How has our mask altered our communication? 

As I deliberated over these questions, I remembered the various masks that we wear both intentionally and unintentionally.

Most often the masks which we put on unintentionally are emotional. They are based on our assumptions, our experiences, our fears, our expectations and more significantly our lack of courage.

We mask our sadness with a smile.

We mask our grief with joy.

We mask our anxiety with anger.

We mask our insecurities with pride.

We mask our weaknesses with strength.

“Just as actors wore masks in the ancient Greek theatre to transform into different characters and roles, we wear ‘masks,’ in a metaphorical sense, to hide our true selves, thoughts, and emotions.” said Elaine Dundon.

Donning a Mask

Children learn to “wear emotions” from their parents. Remember the day you brought home a bad report card, perhaps you have learned to deal with disappointments emulating your dad’s reaction to it. Recall the time your mother pushed past her grief to make supper for the family while still mourning a loved one. Maybe there was some news on the TV and your parent assured you that there was nothing to worry about, but you knew they were scared anyways. Children learn from parents how to respond to pain, fear, anger, sadness, and grief. How we express ourselves and “wear our emotions” may reflect how we were raised! 

Shedding the Mask 

“In a world where everyone wears a mask, it’s a privilege to see a soul.” —Amanda Richardson.

So, how do we learn to remove our “emotional masks” when we have become so comfortable wearing them?

How we showcase ourselves in the world to a greater extent depends on the people around us and our life experiences. It is tough to perceive whether this “image” we are trying to project is right or wrong. It certainly takes both our pleasant and unpleasant life experiences, together with sincere intentional analyzing and reflecting to understand this “image”. 

Confidence coupled with humility is vital to feel safe to be truly authentic. This requires a lot of risk-taking and takes tremendous courage to feel secure enough to be real. It needs a “sense of belonging.” Belonging is defined as the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group. This feeling of acceptance makes us feel held with care, respected, forgiven, and accepted. Belonging which starts from the moment of birth, is a longing that we all have. We are born alive to belong. And in the journey of life when this longing is met, we automatically discard our masks just as easily as we slipped into them. We see and accept each other for the authentic human beings that we are devoid of our masks! But belonging is a dynamic process of mutual concession. I honestly believe that to receive belonging, I must first offer belonging to all. And developing and sustaining this essential attitude is a lifelong journey. It entails that I use my abilities, my God-given gifts to help others. As the Bible says in 1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.”  Receiving and offering this acceptance allows us and who we are with to abandon our masks, giving us the courage to put our vulnerability out on limb and build on ourselves and our rapport with others. Belonging needs nurturing – a nurturing of others and self. Compassionate communities and relationships are built, and we begin to realize that we are indeed enough as we are! For many of us, the Karunya Alumni is a place where we belong! 

Live with meaning!

“To Live with Meaning, Shed Your Masks!”

It was that time of the year for a class portrait – to capture a milestone. The students flocked into their allotted seats in full uniform looking all prim and proper. The photographer was trying her best to get them all to focus as the room crackled both with sad and joyful emotions. When she was satisfied with the class seating, she called out, “At the count of three remove your masks and smile for the picture!” Each one removed their face mask for a brief moment and smiled widely. As I looked at the portrait, I was surprised to see how vividly the photographer had captured each student’s personality in those pictures. The portrait was a memory to cherish!

We come into this world without a mask, and we will leave this world without one. But our entire life is made of a series of connections, where we do not just receive acceptance but offer acceptance as well. 

Have you found your coterie yet? What are you waiting for? Take off your mask!!!


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