“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” — Oscar Wilde
I cannot see through most of the masks that people present. I do not have the kind of perception that apparently most people have to see through a person’s façade to the “real” person inside. It used to bother me, but those masks have a purpose: to protect oneself. I have come to accept people at face value—it is what they want from me anyway—and I find that doing so allows for trust to develop. Sometimes the trust is great enough that the mask slips away. I allow that the mask I see is just that, and in time I will be allowed to see through to the real person. Meanwhile I will accept you as you wish me to see you.
Conversely, I cannot wear much of a mask. I am pretty much unable to present myself as anything but who I am. That leaves me vulnerable, I suppose, to those slings and arrows of personal attack. But it is what it is. The same openness that makes me vulnerable also leaves me able to connect on a deeper level than if I were defensive. I acknowledge the risk inherent in that, but the reward easily outweighs the occasional penalty.
Wilde’s observation about masks evokes a different dynamic, that having the mask gives us the ability to tell the truth. Hiding behind a guise allows us to take risks that we would not if our true selves were transparent. Do you find that to be so? Putting on mask is so difficult for me that I cannot maintain it for more than a few minutes; it provides no respite at all. But it is clear that many rely on that distance that it gives to be able to handle difficult revelations. The mask is more than a sentinel, it is a persona. Having put aside the real self, the new self can take the risk.
We guard our hearts so carefully, no one more than I. When my father died, I put up a wall no one—including my husband—could trespass. No one would ever hurt me like that again. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to allow my patient husband in, to give him the power to burn me to the ground as my father had done. Abe knows the power he has, and he wields it gently. The reward for my trust is the finest love I’ve ever known. Having reached the moment of greatest vulnerability, I found that taking the risk yielded a great treasure.
Interesting armor, walls and masks. It is sad but understandable that we need them. They are taken down only slowly, as trust is earned or strength is gained. If you lack the tools of discernment, as I do, you can still take the chance of being hurt, knowing that it will happen sometimes. But the gift of connection is worth the occasional pain.
Photo courtesy of Serrator.