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Wednesday, September 23, 2009


School, work, family, friends, play. Like changing outfits based on the occasion, we change who we are based on who we’re around and what we’re experiencing. The shy scrawny kid in the back of the class will throw a devasting punch when pushed too far on the playground. The tired, stressed soccer mom will draw on unfathomable reserves of strength if her children in danger. The scarred combat veteran will break down sobbing if caught off guard by a sudden reminder of their dead brothers in arms.

Everyone has more to them than meets the eye. Everyone has a hidden past, hidden motivations, and hidden worries. Even around their best friends, families, or significant others, people are universally motivated to not let their guard down completely. How do you know when you’ve found the oyster in the clam?

It goes without saying that we gradually strip away the layers of masks we wear to protect ourselves as we remove ourselves from the pressures and expectations of the outside world and surround ourselves with those we trust. However, the last mask is the hardest of all to remove, for it is nothing more than a transparent veneer that subtly prevents us from revealing our true selves.

One cannot be completely honest unless they are honest to themselves. If a person hides their true nature from themselves, there is absolutely no way anyone can ever comprehend who they are—therefore , the last mask does not come over unless a person is alone.
Whether this is late at night when insomnia gnaws at a person’s brain and only their thoughts keep them company, or on a long run in the early morning where the rising sun and fresh air lull them into a sense of tranquility, people are only themselves when by themselves. It is then and only then that a person can look in a mirror and see not just their face, but what lies underneath.

Most people are forced to conform in some way. This in itself is another mask, another layer. We wear clothes that make us look the same way as everyone else, and we act in the ways our peers act. The college junior who doesn’t drink, go out late or party is seen as an oddity, but perhaps they are revealing more of their true selves than anyone around them. It is a testament to their sincerity that they are comfortable with NOT hiding behind social expectations.

Some people get caught in a vicious cycle where instead of being able to open up and connect to those around them, they are forced to retreat deeper and deeper until the wall of masks they hide behind is so thick that only the dimmest flicker of who they really are can poke through. Those whose past is full of regrets, and whose future is full of uncertainty are forced to live in the moment, which leaves them alone and frustrated. On one hand, they are tougher and better suited to handle the rigors of life, and on the other they are lost; stumbling from challenge to challenge, unable to let someone who cares get close enough to give them an anchor by which they can orient themselves.

Losing the ability to lay yourself bare is the final act of self-damnation. At that point, the layers of masks that others can freely change and reorganize at will become tight and unyielding—a cold fortress that shields their last fragments of humanity.

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