These are still strange times, even though the election and the worst of the pandemic are behind us. It seems that society is at a point now where we have to become reacquainted with our old habits and traditional ways of doing things. What we once took for everyday behavior and customary interaction often seems alien and unfamiliar, part of a far distant time before COVID-19 forced us into seclusion and isolated us from friends and family.

Consequently, when we get reacquainted with others, it may be best to approach people cautiously, even those you may think you know well. Most people still feel a bit shellshocked, and the transition from quarantine to social gatherings isn’t always an easy one to make. Those who encounter folks who doff their masks are now getting a full-face perspective after nearly a year and a half of hiding ourselves and shielding our expressions for the sake of safety and, in some cases, insecurity.

Likewise, reassuming a public persona may take some getting used to after so many months, when the only person-to-person communication we could rely on was our phones and computers. It’s little wonder that so many people were inclined to take to social media and spout opinions — and even insults — without remorse, since things could be said without having to look anyone in the eye. It emboldened the hatemongers and made others feel like anything could be said or shared without the need to consider any consequence.

As a result, the normal means of human interaction may have to be relearned. The simple art of conversation may seem awkward and intimidating, especially when it comes to sharing thoughts and feelings. How do we trust another person after being away from others for so long? Where we were once wary of getting too close and avoiding others for fear of contracting COVID, we’re now faced with the uncertainty of having to think about others’ opinions and their evaluation of our actions.

In some ways, however, this need to relearn our social skills and to overcome our initial reticence may prove to be beneficial overall, especially when it comes to our ongoing social behavior. It could cause us to give pause when we think about our relationships in general.

Several people I know have fallen off the radar. They’re reticent to communicate by any means, be it phone, texting or internet. I find that discouraging and disappointing, especially because I don’t want to lose touch with the people that I once felt close to. I realize that’s not always possible, however. People move on, get involved with other friends, their families and their careers, or simply find they don’t have the time or interest to stay connected. However, maybe we can learn to nurture our relationships and find ways to share our interests and show our support as we all work our way through the various changes and challenges that life inevitably brings.

It’s also important to understand that human beings don’t abide by one way of thinking that’s common to all. We each have our own emotions, concerns, insecurities and personal priorities. None of us can know what goes on in another person’s mind, why they may react the way they do, what might affect them, upset them or simply cause them to shun any attempt to engage. Every person is different, and what might appeal to one individual’s sense of humor or curiosity might make someone else feel upset or offended.

That makes it a challenge at times to succeed in basic human interaction. I often tend to be irreverent and to make silly comments that I think someone might find funny. I’ve found that even the most casual comment can be taken the wrong way. Something I’ve said with a humorous intent can cause another person to feel as if they’ve been insulted. Perhaps that person had a bad day or suffered a setback. It’s good to keep those considerations in mind.

Of course, there are other awkward scenarios we have to become accustomed to as well. Can we shake hands or hug again? We once took those shows of affection for granted. Now we need to relearn the etiquette all over. Ultimately, the same rules apply now as they did prior to the pandemic. Courtesy, kindness and consideration remain the constants. If we keep those qualities in mind, all the other social skills are bound to follow.

Email to reach longtime freelance music writer, reviewer, critic and blogger Lee Zimmerman.

Daily Times columnist, correspondent

Lee Zimmerman is a Maryville resident and longtime freelance music writer, reviewer, critic and blogger.

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