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  • Jerome Kocher

#6. Stranger in a Strange Land

I personally have traveled to many countries on over four continents, but Dennis Prager of Prager University has been to at least 130 countries. And because of that, he made an observation that rings true to me. From all the “people watching” he’s done over the last decades in many different countries, he noticed that in America strangers talk to strangers more than anywhere else. In lines, in an elevator or on the street, people will exchange comments. But he also noticed that now with wearing masks, there is very little of that spontaneous contact.

This is not an argument for or against masks. It is only an observation that when our faces are hidden we become more invisible. In the Muslim countries I have been to there is an obvious effect of half the population, women, wearing a burka or face covering. Again, this is not an argument whether this is done out of modesty and self respect, or a sign of ownership by a patriarchal society, or whether it’s just an Arabic cultural tradition and not Muslim. Maybe one or all of these. But what it definitely is . . is a hiding of the face, rendering the wearer invisible and other. When someone doesn’t want to engage or be seen, they wear a mask.

Public health may make this necessary. Photos from 1918 as well as 2020 bear this out. But let’s acknowledge the collateral damage. Besides the isolation we experience now, as well as the economic and educational scars, we are also invisible to each other. If politics has severed bonds and relationships between people, masks have psychologically removed the display of emotion from our countenance. In online classes for school, students have their camera turned off with only a circle or an icon to replace it. In the name of privacy? They are hidden. They are invisible.

If we are hidden from the world, it is all too easy to become hidden from ourselves. Especially among teenagers, depression and suicide, become more rampant. People earlier ridiculed the idea that the cure may be worse than the disease. Is it?

We have become strangers in a strange land. This is not who we are.

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