Masks We Wear
This Halloween, people will don sinister masks to enjoy a night of frightening tricks. In 2009, people around the world wore surgical masks to protect others and themselves from H1N1. And on Mardi Gras, the laws against concealing one's identity are suspended for one day of masquerading celebration.
Masks are an everyday part of our lives, whether physically there or not. They cover the face, allowing us to hide emotion and personality. Can you imagine a medieval executioner committing murder without their hooded face? It allows us to submerge ourselves and perform acts that are totally out of character, such as the gruesome acts of the KKK.
Second, a mask can allow its wearer to emphasize one facet of the self. The traditional Japanese Kabuki Theater uses masks with accentuated features to form caricatures of each role. On Bonfire Day in Britain, people wear Guy Fawkes exaggerated face, to remember his attempt to blow up parliament and preserve freedom.
Lastly, and most importantly, masks can protect the wearer from harm. Firefighters depend on non-flammable fiber masks that can stand heat of up to 2600°F. We would never allow a surgeon or dentist to treat us without being masked and gloved. The well-known phrase "just grin and bear it" is society's way of telling us we'll get through life easier if no one ever sees us down. And a blank face or ignoring bullies is often the only way to get them to leave you alone.
Individuals of all cultures use real and psychological masks to function in society. This is called a persona. Derived from Latin "per" meaning 'through' and "sonare" meaning 'to sound'; persona is translated to mean "that through which the actor speaks." It is these different versions of yourself that help you make it through the day. The human psyche is literally layers upon layers of masks. The first two layers consist of tactics that allow us to survive in society; These are glib, empty talk, cliché and role-playing layers. Many people live out their lives never getting underneath them.
The third layer is a hard one to infiltrate: it is the impasse that covers our feeling of being empty and lost. This is the very feeling that we try to banish in building up our character defenses. It is that very deep feeling of "I'll never be able to accomplish my dreams" or "I'll never get married to someone who's not like my father."
Lastly is the fourth and most baffling layer: the death or fear-of-death layer. This is the core of our true and basic animal anxieties, the terror that we carry around in our secret heart. This is the part of you that walks away from an aggressive partner even if you love them. It is the part of you that changes the minute you give birth because your child is your life and you will always fear losing them.
Only when we explode this fourth layer do we get to the layers of what we might call our authentic self. This is who you really are without sham, without disguise and without defenses against fear. It is every horrible thought you've had, even about your mom or best friend. It's where you think about any prejudice, racist, sexist, etc thoughts that society forbids you to say allowed. If you are honest with yourself; very few people ever let this real self show.
So what masks are you wearing?