A simple question, yet a sobering thought—one that plagues us with its complexities in our most personal moments. We respond with shallow answers, unaware of the depth of the question whose answers are where our lives revolve.
Who are we?
Who are you to the people outside? Who are you to the ones you call ‘friends’? Who are you to the family who has known you your entire life? Who are you when the world stares?
And who are you—when the world isn’t looking?
What our true identities and our identities as perceived by the people we meet is a question we cannot answer overnight. Do we even have a true identity? A generic face unknown to others and only seen when we are alone, when we retreat to our private moments. An answer to the latter question is something you cannot find in this article. Because our true TRUE identity, may be a mixture of all our identities we show others combined. Then again, let’s just say, we shall leave it as one of life’s greatest questions.
But one particular topic that surrounds this entire piece of writing is one that has haunted my nights for so long, a vague concept that is now nearly clear for me: Masks.
Believe it or don’t, to every individual we know in the life we’ve lived, we are different people. We wear a different face, a different mask in every person we get to meet and built connections with. We put on masks to every situation that may be favorable and appropriate to us. Rather than a primal instinct, I now believe that putting on masks is near to human nature wherein we adapt to situations according to how it may affect us, both externally and internally—yet it is an act we dare not bother to admit.
Why? It is because a mask is a mask. A tool for deception, they say. A lie, if you will. Common axioms dictate that we should “know thyself”, therefore be true to ourselves in all circumstances. This is also because the truth is a double-edged sword—life’s best offense and defense against all of the world’s harsh challenges. This would lead us to the accepted concept that masks are instruments of dishonesty, thus, putting one on is the wrong thing to do. But I have come to realize that despite our righteous cause to be true and honest, we ourselves are accessories to the undeniable fact that every single day in this world we strive, breathe and live on, who we are to others and ourselves is a different identity each—a different personality and a different way of communicating.
So are we truly a fake, then? Unworthy of love and value simply because we hide who we truly are in fear of compromising a blossoming relationship or a strengthened bond?
Here lies the contradiction: we are taught to embrace who we are but what if our perception of who we truly are is someone who may be destructive? In the name of truth, should we be our inappropriate selves? No. Maybe, the reason why these masks exist in the way humans interact with each other is that there is a part of us not wanting to be misjudged, there is a part of us where we believe that who we are may hurt others. So we put these disguises on, in an attempt to be admired and wanted in the long run.
Like a wristwatch after you shower or a cup of coffee before starting the day, we put on our masks as a daily habit. Because here is the unpopular opinion: masks are inevitable. It isn’t deception towards others but protection. More precisely, a natural defense mechanism built in us to either protect ourselves or the other party. It can be described as a built-in system that makes us adapt to each individual. It is out of respect and decency for others that masks should be perceived as a necessary protection. Every single one of us has a flaw we do best to hide, flaws incapable of change overnight. The only thing we could do immediately is to hide them, until we’ve learnt to face and be ready to change these flaws.
A mask then is like a gun with its safety on. That just in case a destructive part of you may be a threat to a potential relationship, a temporary mask is patterned to the person’s comfort and appropriate situation, where you can allow yourself to talk and act in a way that won’t compromise the goal of building a rapport in between. It isn’t being fake. It is respect and decency that you put these social connections ahead of yourself and protecting them from unnecessary initial damage. Indeed, the truth will still be the one that would set you free, that we cannot deny—but there is a right time and a right place for you to reveal whatever it is you perceive is the truth—and also to the right people who could handle the truth—as a step in accepting who we truly are.
But as the new concept of masks as a good thing may still linger in your head and prove to be difficult to understand, let us put it this way: as masks, they are tools used to hide; but we can consider them rather, as better versions of ourselves. Every single mask is a new and improved self that in time, may become part of us that bring our personalities whole. Theoretically, these may not be masks anymore, but steps towards being better than your old self.