The masks we hide behind

MASQUERADE: We often don metaphorical masks to hide our true nature from others and, sometimes, even ourselves
Picture: Frank Kovalchek/Creative Commons

The physical wearing of masks has taken on a significance of epic proportions globally during the Covid-19 pandemic, but its figurative relevance to life in general on many levels has always permeated the way people are.

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
“It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
“This debt we pay to human guile,
“With torn and bleeding hearts we smile.” – Paul Laurence Dunbar

To a greater or lesser extent, most of us wear masks when in the company of others.

It is very seldom that we show our true colours or portray ourselves as we really are or feel when we are in the glare of public interaction.

Our private and public personas are, more often than not, very different in many ways, and “what you see” is very seldom “what you get” when the masquerade ends or the mask slips.

In effect, things are rarely what they appear to be.

It seems that for most of us, the socialisation process consists of a series of consistent: “What will people think?”, “You need to behave yourself“, “Tidy the house for our visitors”, “You must make a good impression” and many other exhortations to conform to social conventions.

The school system, generally, also plays a major role in strongly encouraging pupils to fit into prescribed patterns of behaviour, being good ambassadors for the school, and discourages unconventional thinking and behaviour.

Clearly society requires the good order, comfort and predictably that conformism brings so that stability is easier to maintain.

So there appears to be a strong supporting role for those who wear masks and masquerade to nourish and support such structures of conformism.

Another dimension of masquerading manifests itself in alarming exaggeration and, sometimes, blatant lies to impress or convince listeners.

People are known to mask the truth when it is to their advantage and they can “steal a march” on competitors.

But is there a cost to those masqueraders. Are they stifled or affected by the masks they wear?

Three views have powerful relevance: “Don’t you, when strangers and friends come to call, straighten the cushions, kick the books under the bed and put away the letter you were writing?

“How many of us want any of us to see us as we really are? Isn’t the mirror hostile enough?” – Jeanette Winterson.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” – André Berthiaume

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