We All Wear Masks

The keynote speaker at one seminar I attended made this statement – “We all wear masks”. As I pondered on what possible meanings that statement might have, I realised that this is a general summation of humanity. Regardless of whom we are and at different times in our lives, we all wear masks.

What, then, is a mask? Generally speaking, a mask is a covering for the face. It is a covering for part, or all, of the face, worn to conceal a person’s identity. It is a grotesque or humorous face worn at carnivals, masquerades, etc. Anything that disguises or conceals (e.g. pretense), is a mask. A person might be hurting badly, and conceal it with a great big smile – Masks! Psychologists say that if a person tells you several times during a conversation “I’m not lying”, he usually is lying. Masks!Lots of people have different masks for different days, and perhaps different occasions. Masks are those things that allow us to assume that we are different from other people.

I read an article in Psychology Today titled “The Truth About Lying” written by Peter Doskoch. In it, Peter quoted a study of psychologist and lying expert Bella DePaulo, Ph.D, who had carried out research and concluded that “occasionally a person will insist that he or she can be entirely truthful for three or four weeks. But no one ever succeeds.” “Everyday lies are really part of the fabric of social life,” says DePaulo, a university professor. He thinks its “because people want to be accepted, and because, sometimes telling things as they actually are, can be damaging to people’s hearts and relationships, so people stretch the truth a little, some more often that others.” The problem arises though, when the liar starts believing that he is telling the truth. He becomes seriously deluded, while people around him, except him, can see that he is being untruthful, and perhaps, crafty. Usually, it wont be very long before the majority of people discover the masks. While some lies damage relationships and destroy trust, other fibs fulfil important interpersonal functions, like smoothing over awkward situations or protecting fragile egos.

But how often do people lie, and when do they do it? DePaulo and colleagues asked 77 college students and 70 community members to keep a diary detailing each lie THEY told. The students, it turned out, admitted to lying, an average of twice a day, while local residents lied half as often. Among the study’s other findings:

* Community members lied in one-fifth of their social interactions; students, one-third. * Lying was more common in phone calls than in face-to-face chats. * One lie in seven was discovered–as far as the liars could tell. * A tenth of the lies were merely exaggerations, while 60 percent were outright deceptions. Most of the rest were subtle lies, often of omission. * More than 70 percent of liars would tell their lies again.

No one has ever succeeded in telling the absolute truth for three weeks in a row!!! What is it then, that makes lying an attraction, a possibility, or indeed, such a part (or fabric) of social interactions? Wondering about this, I asked a friend from Cork in Ireland.

Everyone operates under Maslow’s general pyramid of needs. Masks, therefore, would fall under the need for social acceptance. Maslow postulated that after we are fed, watered, and housed, the need to be socially accepted becomes an urgent basic need. This means that a hungry helpless vagrant does not give a two-penny piece whether you accept him or not. He does not have two pennies to rub together (as the Irish would say). He will eat the crumbs from your table, if you’re not too stingy to let any fall. He will sleep in your dog kennel, if your dog is that friendly. He couldn’t give hoot who is looking or laughing, as long as he can have something (anything) in his belly, and a corridor to rest his head.

But, why is there the need to be socially accepted? Mask wearing is a social disguise, used effectively by everyone, except the hungry and the destitute. People wear masks to conceal their true identity, to conceal their true emotions, their true feelings. Some people have fixated false smiles, that look like photocopies on their faces. The smiles are perpetual, it makes you wonder if the people are really that nice. Masks are worn to gain or secure friendships. In these, we all wear masks. Sometimes, mask wearing becomes a necessity because you don’t want to tell people the truth about themselves, or yourself. In the books of society’s mask wearers (who are usually pompous and arrogant), it’s usually a dog eat dog world. When people become afraid to really be themselves around you, you force them to wear masks. Lots of people go to great lengths to secure social acceptance for various reasons, damaging other people’s psyche, hearts, emotions and lives in the process, not caring whose ox is gored, swapping their “Jack-the-lad” mask, for giant blood-sucking “Dracula” masks.

While discussing people’s masks with my very close friend, Richie Dayo Johnson, here’s what he said. “Well, if you ask me, I would say, let the dogs eat the dogs in their own world! Stay far away from those who want to tell you where to jump off, and keep running till you find those who will tell you where to jump on!” Even clowns and masquerades who wear masks professionally, have to take them off sometime. If you constantly find yourself around people who want to have you for breakfast, lunch and dinner, keep running, until you reach those who will applaud you. There is that, in everyone, that needs to be celebrated. No one should be made to wear their masks perpetually.

Regardless of who is taking notes, share jokes with yourself, and laugh out loud until it hurts. Pick a time to laugh, or smile, even in public. Regularly search for something funny about yourself, and laugh at it. When someone tells a joke at your expense, see the funny side of it, and laugh. His job is to laugh at you and to expand your fault. His job is done. Find someone who can help you fix the fault, and go fix it.

Keep learning, and keep improving. Nothing we are today came to us in one day. Nothing we have learned came to us from birth. I first heard from Dayo that we are all born with two fears – the fear of falling, and the fear from loud bangs. Every other fear we picked up along the way growing up. Everything has been learned and progressed over time. Nobody has the power or ability to change anybody, except they feel a need, and chose to change by themselves. We are who we were made. Don’t wear other people’s masks. You don’t know what their pain is or who they are trying to impress. A mask is worn by a masquerade – you don’t know which face they have on. Enjoy the person you were made, regardless of who is watching.

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