Wherever we go, we tot along an array of exquisitely engraved costume masks.
Fanned out on a flat surface, some of us would marvel at how many different, varied and storied identities we can effortlessly assume, all in a single day and all in a single seating.
All of us wear masks. That is not to be contested.
And we’ve developed situational masks to please, impress or intimidate certain types of people.
Even when we don’t feel that way, we smile and laugh anyway, because it would be impolite to do otherwise.
Sometimes, we applaud a performance not because we thought it was grand, but because everyone is doing it. It would be impolite not to. Peer approval matters.
When it’s someone who has a higher social standing than us, we give them more attention, more time and more of everything. They matter more.
But such performances, at least for some individuals, are tiring: An introvert pretending to be an extrovert quickly feels disconnected from himself; repeatedly impressing people with praises start to feel weary; and trying to fit a group’s artificial dynamics can burden us.
Those who cope well in such situations are often those who never really give too much thought to who they really are, nor do they see why they need to care.
Sometime ago, someone told me that this is how the social jigsaw pieces line up – it would be imprudent to go against it. Social needs, cliques and peer bonding are after all, very, very important.
And maybe there lies both the answer and the problem. We CAN be consistent, honest and authentic, but we are not willing to pay the price of being ostracised. That I can understand because social alienation can inflict a great deal of misery.
But on the side of the equation, is a loss of who we originally were. I honestly believe that among all the different masks we stash away, there is a part of us that’s genuinely consistent. It’s the face that’s under the mask.
It’s this side of us that we are usually most terrified to show. Because it’s vulnerable and individualistic. This side risks the greatest damage, and is the easiest to break, so for that, we have at our disposal, a set of masks.
It’s not to say that we should allow ourselves to be unguarded, or be willing to assume everyone is trustworthy. But the authentic side of us might exhibit honest opinions, blunt words and deep contemplation that we sometimes, really, really need.
And when we can authentically say, do and believe something regardless of the situation or people, it’s empowering and refreshing. How many of us I wonder, had to say things we never really meant?
It reminds me of a person who, in order to make friends, had to develop an entirely new mask – a chirpy, quasi-naive and socially outgoing self in order to fit in. Her more serious – somewhat philosophical self – had trouble resonating.
Perhaps at some point, there will a merger of our masks, and what’s left is an even average of all distributed personalities, but that I think is a little sad: to have something essential die inside us, and have no-one to mourn it.
Maybe there isn’t really a clear answer to be had here. Our masks are tools of survival, and who am I to denounce one method over the other?
But I had a taste of authenticity, and I know the price I pay for staying consistent across all points of my life, and I also know that what I say (either to get them to think more or defend a point) can be disagreeable to certain groups of people.
But it’s how I have lived my life for a long time, and even if it costs me power, money or social bonds, I simply don’t value these concepts the way most people do. I rather be closer to who I am – and that is still something I am learning.
What about you?
So have you thought (HYTA) about what your different masks are?