We live in a world without smiles. At least in 2020.
Why? Because we live in a COVID-19 world of masks. Masks, protecting one another, in a year of a pandemic that is defining our generation, even though we’re still trying to define what exactly it is and how exactly it is going to impact us.
It has not been easy getting used to living in a world without smiles, especially considering how dearly we have needed smiles this year – smiles to provide comfort, smiles to provide calm, smiles to show compassion, smiles to show we care. But in our quest to care by covering up, we lose our smiles.
To remove smiles from daily life is to remove sunshine. Always there, even is cracking through heavy clouds overhead, the comfort of the sun’s presence sets a mood. There is always reason to look up.
In the first days and weeks of 2020 as COVID-19 spread across the globe, masks began to appear. Rapidly. Regulations, whether by choice or by mandate, differing though they may be country to country, became a growing presence. Some plain, some patterned, some creative expressions of personality, all were symbols of growing fears around an invisible, life and lifestyle changing phenomena. For most, the thought of a pandemic was a concept beyond all comprehension. The ability to protect oneself was beyond anything familiar. We all needed to take cover. Including covering up.
And so masks began to appear as clouds overhead only grew heavier and heavier, skies rapidly filling with trepidation, storms brewing with uncertainty around the disasters ahead. Doors, borders, skies all closed, human connection was blocked.
As time has passed, the block has become the norm. What we thought, hoped, was just a few passing months of management of this new challenge to our shared world has become a crisis defining our year. Possibly even longer. More and more masks surround us, more and more smiles have disappeared.
With this natural, omnipresent form of emotional connection covered, with our expressions of care, love, joy, excitement, gratitude, compassion, consideration and concern covered, how are we to communicate? How are we to remain hopeful?
A new language has emerged, a new channel for communication: our eyes.
It’s all about the eyes.
Especially in these still fragile times. Like smiles, eyes have become a universal form of expression, a way of sharing, immediately, one’s mindset, a doorway into one’s thoughts.
The eyes reveal far more. When we were able to see smiles, we may never have appreciated the power of the eyes. In these COVID19 times when awareness of others is so important, eyes reveal fear, they reveal friendliness. With fatigue and frustration increasingly becoming a part of daily restrictions to life as we once knew it, choosing to ease off of caution rather than keep a mask on or keep a safe distance, eyes can reveal flippancy, and they can reveal forgetfulness.
To travel once again after so many months grounded is to see, feel, and appreciate, the power of the eyes.
As slowly our world is reopening, tourism cautiously re-starting, it is impossible to not notice the different look in the eyes of strangers, travellers, and the eyes of those being travelled to. From airports to airlines, taxi drivers to hotels, it’s all in the eyes. Whoever it is, it is the eyes that now speak.
And in those eyes, one gets a whole new understanding of the COVID-19 world in which we live, and in which we are trying to travel. Communication of the eyes has become one that we rely on to be able to trust. And as expressed by the Secretary General of the UNWTO, “Trust is the new currency”.
Trust. All of it is channelled through the eyes. There are few other ways of communicating that sense of “I will take care of me to take care of you.”
This is critical as we continue to try to make sense of so much that remains changing, rapidly. From a travel perspective, these changes have been in many places and for many people, painfully, the opening and then quickly closing of borders, hotels, restaurants, minds – lives and livelihoods changed in a moment.
How do we make sense of it all in the world of travel? At least in the next 12 months, we need to recognise that the language of the eyes is one that we need to rely onto be able to reconnect with the world, recognising that people in the world are reconnecting with their own world. The lack of a smile does not mean the lack of feeling.
For millions around us, their eyes are filled with fear – their lives and their livelihoods being taken away because of this invisible pandemic that has hit every single one of the 7.9 billion people in the world, right between the eyes, and in the heart.
In our hearts, through our eyes, we need to ensure we do not lose sight of the need to remain compassionate towards others. As hard as these times are, as hard as it can be thinking beyond the “I” to consider the “we” and the “them”, we need to appreciate that with so much around us continuing to be challenging, and changing – all of this scary – we still have a long time until this is all over.
There is a reason why we are all familiar with the expression: “The eyes are the mirror to the soul.” In these times of unparalleled crisis, because this invisible, agnostic, inescapable virus puts everyone at risk, everyone needs everyone. As confident and courageous and cocooned as we may think we are, our eyes reveal how we need the consideration and compassion of others to maintain stamina to see the end of this generation-defining time.
Ultimately the warmth and wonder of our world comes through connecting with people. 2020’s #COVID19-defined year has unlocked a new way of communicating, a new way of connecting – giving us a new reason to look up. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2020