I’m officially a Free Breather…

With the surprise lifting of the federal mask mandate last week, and the state finally catching up by mid-week this week, this morning I decided to go grocery shopping without a mask.

As a student of the Human Condition, I was curious to see how this new paradigm was affecting people and what, if anything, I would experience after a year of the “new normal”.

While I’m certainly not a member of the Church of the Holy Face Covering, I did mostly play by the rules for the last year; if I was in a store or public space, I was masked up. At home, at work, and while alone outside I didn’t wear one though – so I’m not quite as conditioned as some others and this will obviously color my responses.

I pulled up to the grocers and checked the sign; yes, masks are optional… So in I went.

Even for my less-than-optimally conditioned self it was weird to be out and about without a mask on. I was actually a bit self-conscious over it as I was one of only four or five other people in the grocers without some sort of face covering, and that made the situation a bit surreal.

And being maskless appears to make you a bit of a social pariah currently; no one would make eye contact and the effort to stay away from me in the isles was obvious.

I made a point to be overtly friendly; smiling and offering good mornings whenever possible, but with the exception of the few other maskless people, I was ignored or avoided.

Another observation is that it’s almost impossible for me to judge emotion with the lower half of people’s faces covered. Over the last year I somewhat assumed everyone was in the same emotional state I was in at the time, because there was no real evidence to the contrary.

But today I got to be social with random people I could ‘read’, and it alerted me to the fact I couldn’t ‘read’ the masked folks – and that was interesting enough for me to note it when it happened.

It makes me wonder if this is a common effect, and if masking causes people to overlay their current emotional state on everyone around them… It would explain a few things if people are worried / scared about whatever the fear du jour is today, and apply that state to everyone in the absence of emotional cues… Which feeds back into the anxiety and creates a loop.

And then you get the Church of the Holy Face Covering…