Beyond the chagrin of losing our smiles

Kevin Shinn on the newfound challenge of relating with other humans in an age of face masks.


I have a problem with the mask.

And before you assume you know what I am talking about, before you become angry, or defensive, I will wager a bet I have a different idea in mind than you. My main problem with the mask is this:

I can’t see you smile.

In my role as a chef, I quickly became addicted to the delight I received when I sat a plate on the table and watched the response of the guest. In that first look of seeing them either say or mouth the word, “Wow,” I was hooked. In turn, they would look at me, and through a big smile say “Thank you.”

My fate was sealed. I had a new personal mission. I loved to make people smile, and I determined that I would always seek to do so, regardless if I was in the hospitality business or not.

I think it was the sense of Cause and Effect at play. My simple actions of kindness would cause an effect in someone else that was immediate and hopefully important, even if just at that moment.

If anything, it made me feel a little more alive and human.

The easiest place for me to practice this mission is in the check-out line in the grocery store. It doesn’t matter if the clerk is young, old, tired, or friendly. When I enter their line and begin to place my items on the conveyor belt, I look them in the eye and smile. And 99 percent of the time, I get a smile in return.

When handed the receipt or change from the cash transaction, often the clerk would say “have a nice day” and never look me in the eye. It’s my little quirk to wait for a moment to see if they would move past a rote response given to countless people throughout the shift.

I want to see if they will look back at me. I want one more chance to get them to smile.

With masks in place, it makes my little hobby a little harder to determine if I’m successful. But I’m not to be deterred. I now try and see if I can make your eyes smile. This requires a little more effort and paying closer attention. It’s actually more rewarding because the eyes don’t lie as easily as the mouth.

I choose to believe we are living in rare and fascinating days. And I choose not to lose sight of the new opportunities that are being presented to me every day to make even the smallest of difference. I will not allow myself to be sidetracked by the conspicuous.

Join me and look closer. Remarkable solutions might be as near as a smile.

A chef, writer, and entrepreneur, Kevin is a thought leader in Lincoln’s cultural, economic, and civic life. No matter the endeavor, Kevin finds he comes back to the same main pursuits: Setting the table, having important conversations, and seeing ideas become realityFor more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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