“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~Jim Morrison
First of all, I need to give the credit for the gorgeous masks to my 8-year-old daughter. She was 5.5 when she made these masks at summer art camp. This post was inspired by the photos of the masks she made almost three years ago.
Masks. We ALL wear them. We all hide behind masks in various areas of our lives. In fact, we all use masks – they can be our safety net, our protection. This is why I LOVE the Morrison quote above – it is SO VERY true! As human beings who are subject to the great stressors of this world we are all tempted to assume the roles that we believe we are expected to play. We lose ourselves (and, as Morrison said, our freedom) as we step on to the stage of our lives and willingly masquerade as only a semblance of the real selves we are.
Most of us do not wear only one mask, we wear many. Our masks are changed depending on the role we expect ourselves to play at any given moment. Here are some of the masks I wear:
- Wonder Bitch (assisted by hormones associated with PMS)
- Health Nut (comes and goes depending on my commitment)
- Boss/ Supervisor
The interesting reality is that in each of the roles listed above, I can be myself or someone else. The mask seems to go on and off depending on the day, my confidence and the specific situation at hand. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed with a particular situation, I may be more likely to put my mask on and “play the part” in the way I believe I should, placing my feelings of the moment aside. Sometimes this is a good thing, at other times this means that I sacrifice myself in order to perform whatever duties I have deemed are more critical than living authentically at that moment.
Last week I met with a patron of my workplace who spent the better part of an hour spewing racist propaganda. It was far too much for me to stomach. In that moment I wanted to allow my authentic “Wonder Bitch” to come out and attack him (I wasn’t even pmsing at the time). However, I was able to keep on my mask of Consummate Professional/ Boss and Employer and do my best to handle the highly offensive comments in a diplomatic way. Of course, afterwards I spoke with my employees about how to protect our workplace from inappropriate racist comments and we will be making changes to strengthen our policy so that our patrons understand how strongly committed we are to judging our community members only on the content of their character and NOT on their lineage. Had I taken my mask off in that moment, I would not have accomplished what I needed to. I may have FELT better in that instant by telling that individual off, but it would not have done anything to properly address the situation. In fact, it would have made the situation more explosive than it already was. My mask protected me, and ultimately allowed me to be more professional.
However, there are times when masks are not so valuable to us. What if someone is in an abusive situation and is wearing a mask of “loving, caring wife”? What if this “loving, caring wife” has been beaten by her spouse until she is black and blue? Her spouse returns with what appears to be a great deal of remorse and promises to change (for the seventh time). In her role as “loving, caring wife” she wants to believe that he will change. She likes to hear the promises. She wants to “do the right thing” and give him another chance (an eighth chance). In this case, her mask is causing her to make decisions that could cause her to continue to live a life where she is in physical and emotional danger. Perhaps she is even placing children in danger. Her mask is blocking the great pain of reality – a reality she needs to be in touch with in order to make healthy decisions. The mask needs to come off.
There is a new mask that has emerged in our society in the past decade – it is the INTERNET mask. This mask can also be used for good or evil. Often by hiding behind the internet mask, individuals will speak truth that they are afraid to speak in person. This reminds me of a quote by Oscar Wilder ~ “Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Yes, we often find that people are much more brave as they hide behind the mask of technology. They may say things they would never think to say in person, and often in harsher tones. Perhaps this is a good thing. I personally would rather know the truth, no matter how harsh and painful, than wonder where I stand in any given situation.
So what is the moral of my post? Perhaps the only moral is awareness. There are times when masks help us and times when masks harm us. Therefore, we need to be mindful of each given moment. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I wearing a mask now?” “Do I want to be wearing a mask?” “Is this mask helping or harming me? What purpose does it serve?” If the mask is filling an appropriate aim, then leave it on. If the mask is keeping you from your authentic truth that you need to be living, then be brave and remove it.
Today, 339 days ’til 40, I will seek to be more aware of the masks I acquire. I will use the ones that are valuable and shed the ones that are useless. My hope for you is that you are able to find the personal strength to do the same.