Now that our lives seem so dependent on wearing a mask every day and in almost every location, it got me thinking about the many masks, metaphorically, that we wear in our role.
A mask is something that is there to protect and hide. Covid N95 masks protect us from the dreaded lurgy and masks such as Batman’s black pointed ear thing, hides him from being identified as his actual self, Bruce Wayne.
In America, and no doubt around the world, there are now people who have become so accustomed to wearing their physical Covid mask that when mask mandates were lifted, they felt naked, and grew anxiety like health issues feeling exposed to the world.
Bizarre, I know.
My Covid masks have been very useful in hiding a number of daily facial issues that I’ve had recently. A pimple here, or a razor cut there. I’m yet to resort to going a day unshaved though. How practical! And useful. Maybe next week.
Conversations with colleagues have also taken a change. Wearing a mask during a conversation is really quite fraught.
Masks hide certain tones in the voice that may have helped you show subtle emphasis in your conversation – suggesting that you were actually joking. Or that you were actually serious!
Masks hide the shape of your mouth and the lines of your face – the useful points of expression that the listener can use to interpret your meaning.
Above your eyebrows are your worry lines, and they’re pretty hard to disguise. I’ve considered concrete, but it tends to chip off when I laugh. They seldom change though. I’ve got a habit of looking worried even when I’m calm and happy. “Why the worried face Steve?!” “Arrh, I’m not, this is my happy look”
Your eyes are left to be the only thing for listeners to be hundred percent sure, in their opinion anyway, of your intentions.
Do a quick google search for “quotes about eye contact” and you get a myriad of responses:
“It was one of those unexplainable moments of eye contact that is immediately overanalyzed and inevitably misread”
“Eye contact is a dangerous, dangerous thing. But lovely. Oh so lovely”
“Eye contact; how souls catch on fire”
You get the drift.
Reading eyes is an art in itself. No surprises that it’s one of the most mis-interpreted.
Was that a cold eyed stare?, a second too long flirtatious hold?, or a squint in the sun?
If we’ve ever been more vulnerable to mis-interpretation it is now when we wear our masks.
For some people coming into our schools, the newbies who we have never met before, all we see are these “windows to their soul”. Somebody took their mask off the other day, a person who I had never seen without a mask, and I was shocked to see they were totally different to what I thought they looked like. No doubt you’ve had these sorts of experiences too.
The bigger issue of course is that as leaders we’ve always been wearing masks of some sort or another. Today’s world has just brought the mask out from behind our skin and bones and into the physical world.
Every day Mantra’s such as “Fake it till ya make it” are classic mask comments. They encourage us to mask up, metaphorically.
“Put on your game face” is another classic.
At the other end of the scale we’re encouraged to, “Be our authentic self”. This suggests that it’s better not to wear a mask at all (metaphorically speaking of course).
We hide stuff all the time. We do this to protect ourselves and to protect others.
Hiding our emotions in our school settings is one of the number one “go to’s” that we use just to get through every single day.
Hiding behind this sort of mask has its costs. We pay in pent up frustration, anger, regret, exhaustion, anxiousness, irritation, infuriation, resententfulness and guilt. Just to name a few.
The alternative isn’t that great either. Taking off our masks and saying exactly what we feel can also lead to all of those feelings if we’re not measured and careful.
Some of us wear a different type of mask altogether. Batman masks! Some Principal/Leaders wear these all day, every day in their schools.
Batman mask wearers like to solve this problem and work through that problem. They work to keep the streets clean of all the vernim (RATs anyone!), they like to get there (wherever that is) just in the nick of time, and they drive the coolest fastest, blackest car in the staff carpark. At night, when the credits roll for another day, they go back to their other lives as moral (and sometimes immoral) abiding citizens of Gotham city. The difference is that Bruce Wayne never really seems to worry when he is Bruce Wayne – I’m thinking 1960’s/70’s era Batman – he is calm and measured and enjoys spending his countless thousands on many toys. This is quite unlike any Principal/Leader that I know.
This isn’t our reality. In fact it’s no one’s reality. It reminds me of that often remarked saying about Social Media being the highlight reel of everyone else’s lives. We see this on Facebook and we wonder why our lives aren’t so magnificent. No ones are.
And yet, everyones, including yours are. Magnificent that is!
So what’s the work around?
Well, for a start, you’re not batman. So take that out of the equation. Leave being Batman to dress up days and book weeks. You are pretty damn amazing though, but there’s a reason why there aren’t any Batman’s around in the real world – it’s because they’re fictional. They’re made up. And so don’t look at your role from a fictional point of view. You’ve got reality in front of you day in and day out, so be easy on yourself. Unlike Batman you don’t get to read your script before you get to deliver it.
The work around is all about Communication. This means being absolutely clear of your intention and absolutely clear of your message.
And a word about intention – intention can be a double edged sword, on the one edge you need to be clear in your mind about your own intention, but on the other edge, don’t let your intention get in the way of gathering a better understanding of what is going on.
The work around this of course is to have a universal intention to always seek to understand first.
Communication comes with a myriad of fish hooks:
- What to say
- When to say it
- How to say it
- Who to say it too
- Who else to say it too
- Where to say it
- Where to park it once it’s said
You’re a way better Principal/Leader than me if you can work through all this in the split second of sorting out an issue or a fight. Mary is about to smack Johnny with a chair at the start of a staff meeting, and you’re standing there yelling … wait! I need to get through my check list of fish hooks before I respond! You get my drift.
So back to the mask. We’ve got it extra hard at the moment having to wear a mask whether it’s in front of our tauira or kaiako. Make yourself clear, and remember to go easy on yourself. If you don’t then your eyes will give you away anyway.