Missing your smile…

When last did you see a smile on someone’s “exposed” face? I have found myself looking forward to whatsapp video calls where I can see peoples’ unmasked faces…and that got me thinking about smiles, facial expressions, how much communication happens non-verbally and what effect masks will have on our communication now and in the future. So I thought I would write something upbeat about finding alternative opportunities for communicating and smiling more with our eyes. A quick look at the internet and my blogpost would be done. That was Monday – I have emerged almost 3 days later with more questions than answers. I did not realise that the science of the smile is so complicated!

Apparently there are between 19 and 50 different smiles meaning different things. The consensus seems to be that 6 of them are positive. The rest happen when we are experiencing pain, discomfort, misery, anger, contempt, embarrassment, confusion, surprise and horror. (Some of the experiments that demonstrated this are horrific!) We also tend to smile when we are lost and when we are lying. There really seems to be a smile for every occasion! So, how do we actually understand what a smile means?

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Grumpy on Social Media?

As I browse through some conversations on social media, I am noticing that there seem to be a lot of grumpy people out there, taking things personally, and attacking each other at the slightest provocation. I am going to assume that most of us who are active on social media are part of the group of workers who are not able to return to work under level 4 rules, and are therefore still spatial distancing at home, and isolated from most of the people we usually socialise with.

Three stages of reaction to prolonged isolation have been identified, as “a first stage of heightened anxiety, a second stage of settling down to routine marked by depression, and a third stage of anticipation marked by emotional outbursts, aggressiveness, and rowdy behaviour.” 1

At this stage many of us are experiencing powerful emotions like anxiety, frustration, impatience and fear around what the future holds for us. It is easy to become caught in an ever tightening spiral of increasing tension, and this makes it so much easier to bite off somebody else’s virtual head. Anger feels so much more powerful than depression and fear. There may even be an element of addiction to it. Long-term, where are these angry outbursts going to take us? Do we really want to go there?

I think we need to give ourselves and each other a good measure of grace as we honestly ask ourselves some hard questions:

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The freedom to look beyond the screen

Today we celebrate Freedom Day without the opportunity to attend a large gathering of like-minded people, without the feeling of celebrating our progress from the past together in physical presence, without the heated discussions grappling with the strong hold that the past still seems to have on us. Instead, there are live-streamed events, and perhaps we will have the possibility of an online interaction which touches on some of these topics…

Lately, I have been part of a few online conversations, where it was obvious that people are misunderstanding each other. The reasons are complex. How does the isolation of physical distancing influence the mix? In South Africa we have a history of living in our own bubbles with little awareness of what other’s reality looks like. In lock-down, with minimal exposure to others, we look through the screen of our opaque bubble and see that we are facing the same storm out there, feel that we are burdened with the same loss of freedom. Yes, we are slightly aware that there are differences in people’s experiences, but we’re all in this together, aren’t we? Let’s have a closer look.

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Dialogues virtual and face-to-face

I have tried a few times to get involved in uncomfortable discussions online or in whatsapp groups, sometimes with people I know personally, sometimes with people I have not met face-to-face. I confess that it has generally not gone very well. Even in the groups where I have known the majority of people, I have been misunderstood and have misunderstood others. The conversation has landed us in unfamiliar territory, where the expectation we have of “being known” by others, of sharing a common history of face-to-face contact, has been hollowed out. We feel unfamiliar, even to ourselves, strangers communicating with other strangers.

As a result, I tend to “listen” online more than I “speak”. Lately I have noticed some unwelcome changes in myself as I “listen”.

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Responding, not reacting

On the subject of the Grantleigh artwork, let’s think a little about the storm of activity in response to the art exhibition; perhaps we can work out something useful about how to approach similar incidents in the future. We know there will be opportunities to apply our learning 🙂 I would like to suggest using the phrase “ThinkThruTalkThru” as a bit of a motto …

Let’s think: One of the things we should be asking ourselves is why exactly are we as Christians upset? Can we name the particular reason underneath our outrage, and underneath that, until we come to the core? Can we bring it before God honestly and ask – Is this an important truth or an idol we hold dear? Are we prepared for God to change us in this uncomfortable process? Are we taking a statement about society personally? Could we be taking something at face-value when it is meant as an abstract metaphor? Is there anything we can learn or apply from this trigger – what part of the message can we affirm? What part do we disagree with?

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Restful Respect

(A poem from the book Dwelling in Dissonance)

Thinking

Recognised,

Understood,

Encouraged

 

Heart

Open,

Serving,

Pausing

Introspection,

Transferring

Attention,

Listening

Intentionally

To

You

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

We often talk about offering hospitality in our homes; I believe we extend true hospitality of time and space to people when we really listen to them  in conversation with us. I have often been convicted in this area – How are my listening skills? Do I listen to understand the other person, or with a view to finding a gap to share my perceived wisdom? 

The Challenge of Family Relationships

Our diversity dialogue on 2 June at Nokuphila was a small group but this lent itself to a more intimate conversation – the participants chose to dialogue about the challenge of family relationships. In a small group the question I sometimes ask myself as a facilitator is “Where is the diversity?” but we had exactly the diversity needed for the topic.

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