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Stripping Away the Veneer

Mickey Mandelbaum  Follow

We are stripped down humans during COVID-19.

The veneer of perfection that we attempt to portray to our co-workers on a daily basis in the office has slowly, but surely, eroded away.

No ties, smart outfits, or makeup.

On internal Zoom calls we see each other unshaven, hair up, or just back from a workout.

What we’ve come to realize is that the veneer, while nice, is just packaging and not correlated to the work that is produced.

Most important, seeing each other this way harkens back to what we saw in each other when, at various respective points in the past, we made the decision to work with these people at this firm—and it confirms to us that we made the right choice.

We are seeing again, but in a different way, a more real version of our co-workers.

We see (and hear) dogs and kids running wild and untethered in the background and where there once may have been judgment, now there is empathy and, probably, an opportunity for everyone on the call to laugh together.

We see deep into people’s homes—their kitchens, childhood bedrooms, and family rooms. We get a sense for how they live and maybe a hint about what they do when not stuck behind a screen. A piece of art over the right shoulder of one of my colleagues who I am frequently on Zoom calls with reads, “Wherever you go, go with your whole heart,” and although I haven’t asked what that means for her, I feel like I have a better sense of who she is.

We have begun, I believe, to finally see each other, simply, as people.

Then, in the midst of this new, altered reality that has become our lives came incredible social change that swept the nation and, at times, made us recoil when we looked in the mirror.

On the one hand this seemed incredibly stressful to be happening now, but on the other it was a welcomed relief—something that was long overdue.

As I have processed this change, I started to wonder if how I was now seeing my co-workers would transfer to how I “saw” everyone around me.

Would that empathy and the acceptance of seeing people’s authentic selves stick with me after we all emerge from the cocoon in which we are currently living? Or will we, like times in the past, simply go back to the way it was before?

Part of me fears the return to “normal” where we mindlessly rocket through our daily lives barely able to see the people in front of us.

While I miss the social interaction and have deep fears about the future of the economy if we don’t get back to normal, I also remember the part of that old “normal” that included last-minute conference calls in any number of obscure, inconvenient places on my way to somewhere else. It included barely making it to kids’ school events or being stuck in a comfortable, but ultimately sad business center while the family goes to the beach during our summer vacation together.

That normal contained countless demands that supposedly made us whole people, but that now seem, on some level, increasingly strange.

What I’d like to do is take some of what we’ve learned, particularly about people, and take that “normal” with me when I return to our old “normal.” I want to continue to see my co-workers and those around me—and for them to see me—in ways that now seem far more genuine and, frankly, human.

And while like most people, I want to put a bullet in 2020, I want to tightly hold on to what it’s taught me to date and, because I choose to be an optimist, I look forward to the wisdom and unseen lessons that I am certain will reveal themselves to me over time.

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