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Denis Jung

Face masks, empathy and understanding

Face masks are a visible embodiment of the ‘new normal’ and, now that the government has backed up their wearing with legislation, we are all going to have to get used to wearing them, whether we like it or not. I suppose it’s a bit like the smoking ban – it very quickly became socially unacceptable to smoke indoors and smokers got used to it. It’s the same with face masks, only this time, it affects us all.

But a conversation with someone recently got me thinking. They have a hearing impairment, and reading lip movement and facial expression play an important role in communication for them. With a mask on, much of the face is hidden – and it’s a problem. If you have an impairment, you’re hardly going to ask people to take off their masks when they’re talking to you. Clear masks are a great idea (and they’re being encouraged for key workers) but only if everyone wears them, which isn’t going to happen.

The only option I can see is that we, all of us, have, as part of the ‘new normal’, got to be more patient, more understanding and have more empathy with our fellow citizens when talking to them. On the one hand, there should be no stigma around saying “I’m sorry, I cannot hear you”. On the other, the greeting of such comments with raised eyebrows (they’re one of the few bits of the face you can see) needs to become entirely socially unacceptable.


24.7.20. Photo: Denis Jung