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Safeguarding our dignity, identity and autonomy in the face of mask mandates

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

A sleeping world of eyes without faces…

Masks conceal identity. This much has always been clear to us, which is why masks have always been and continue to be popular when trying to characterise villains and bad characters in movies, as well as criminals in real life. In today’s society however, it is both interesting and unnerving, as it appears not only to be the villains and criminals that are hiding behind the protected façade of a mask, but all of us ‘ordinary people’. Whereas for criminals, we know that masks do the job of hiding their individual identity, for ordinary people, masks have been shown to pose a strong dehumanising effect with associated shame, humiliation and a loss of sense of self. They erase individuality and, as such, collectively we become a faceless anonymous mass. I find myself questioning our reality more often than not nowadays, taking a step back and observing the events around me play out like a movie plot. I can’t help myself but think that masks look daringly ominous - particularly the black ones - and I’m sure I’m not alone in this reflection as we pass each other on the streets, in supermarkets, queueing in cafes, etc. The strange thing is, now that we have become so accustomed to wearing masks, I am seeing people wear them in their cars with no passengers but themselves, walking along pavements with no other individuals in sight, running in parks where they are out in open crowd-less spaces. Mask wearing has been drilled into us so strongly, that it has comfortably found its way into our so-called ‘new-normal’, if we can call it that yet. It concerns me that this ‘temporary measure’, amongst all others, was perhaps never intended to be so temporary after all.

Another of my concerns is the role masks have in hindering our communication. The human face is a crucial channel of our communication and existence, offering a window to our personality. As soon as we put on a mask, this is instantly denied to us. We have long understood the inherent role of non-verbal communication in human interaction as being a vital part of our experiences with each other and in how we understand the world. Through facial expressions we often reveal as much, if not more, than mere words can, particularly when it comes to our emotions. What’s more, in the world of body language, when someone puts their hand over their mouth it is a sign that they are listening intently. What this further means is that they are ready to receive information but not to question it. With this in mind, I invite the exploration of the disinhibition effect. It is most often described in the context of cyberspace, but in this case can be a direct experience of mask wearing. Psychologists describe it in terms of a suspension of the superego’s control mechanisms, allowing subconscious impulses to take over. In short, masks switch off our executive function – our conscience. They make us impressionable and vulnerable; we are more likely to follow someone else’s direction and to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. With the inhibition of identity and impulse control, and a loss of visible facial expressions, it is no stretch of the imagination to assume that covering our mouths, not only makes us less able to read each other and to deduce what is moral and immoral behaviour but also inculcates compliance and shuts us up psychologically.

From personal experience and observations, I have found that what we end up doing when unable to see each other’s faces or hear each other’s muffled voices, is to avoid one another. We avoid unnecessary communication with a growing sense of wariness amongst us. Unless we have purpose to interact with individuals in our environment, we avoid making eye contact or even looking at each other all. I’ve realised how much we rely on visual cues of facial expressions, both consciously and subconsciously. A simple but fundamentally powerful gesture I have come to miss, is to see and to share the smiles of those around me. The familiar smiles of friends as we pass each other in the shop or wave goodbye at the station, as well as the smiles of strangers that always somehow manage to uplift your spirits in that single gesture of happiness. This may sound like a very petty qualm to have but smiling is wonderfully contagious and if there was ever a time where we needed smiles and contagious good moods, it's now!

My background is in psychology with further specialisation in Sport Psychology, covering modules in counselling, developmental perspectives and well-being, psychological skills training, and research design and methods. My studies have helped me adopt a very open-minded and holistic outlook on human behaviour, along with a strong scientific understanding of how we collect, interpret and present data to produce evidence-based information. We all contribute differently, all with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Like any other individual, I believe that I have the right to question, to research and to form my own opinions. I understand that the scientific grounds for wearing masks are limited at best, and by adopting a broader more balanced approach to the available information, I am presented with a view that suggests to me that we are drifting further and further away from reason or logic in our policy-making and more toward fear and conditioning. Mandating mask wearing, without balanced and open debate, has presented a tactical but unspoken agreement that we are under someone else’s command. Not just in the sense that we are obeying orders and doing as we’re told, but we’re also losing our individual freedom of speech and expression. We could argue that masks are simply a symbol of our submission, to a loss of personal dignity, identity and autonomy. I believe that for many of us, our positive human qualities and rights are being swept away from beneath us, as we continue to blindly sleep-walk our way through life.

Have we reached a state of ignorance and fear that we now happily and willingly endorse such measures and give up our freedoms so easily?

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