Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Behind the Masks 2018

Most people wear masks at various times and for various reasons. It’s so common, in fact, that people who never (or almost never) wear masks are generally looked upon as being socially or emotionally underdeveloped, or possibly even both. This is not always a conscious consideration - we love to say that we prefer things honest and real - but it is true just the same. We are so accustomed to the presence of masks that we even sometimes wear them in private, and then tell ourselves that the mask is our real face.

A mask is a mask, no matter how often we call it a face, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a problem. A mask is a tool and, like most tools, it can serve a useful purpose or it can be misapplied. When tools are misapplied, things tend to break. Unfortunately, when this tool is misapplied, it is often hearts, minds, and even lives that break. Masks can be very useful and even powerful tools but, as is often the case, they are also dangerous tools, and should be used only with appropriate care and consideration to minimize their hazards.

I can already hear the argument, “Honesty is always the best policy and you should never hide behind a mask.” Of course you’re right, and when Aunt Sally asks you how she looks, you always and only tell her the exact truth, don’t you? If you answered “yes” to that, I’m guessing they don’t offer sensitivity training at your place of employment. There is a time and a place for everything, and that includes honesty. The people who tell you, “Hey, I’m just being honest,” are usually just being callous and lazy. That’s not the same thing.

Honesty may be the best policy - and it is a policy I follow personally, so I am certainly not knocking the idea - but “best” does not necessarily mean “only”. There are times when it is a good idea to show a different face - a mask - to the world, and we have developed a variety of socially acceptable ways to create and use these masks. If you can help Aunt Sally with her appearance then you might find a gentle way of doing so. If you can’t help, though, or, even more important, if Aunt Sally is perfectly happy with her appearance and any negative input from you is only going to cause hurt feelings with no positive benefit, you smile and tell her how fabulous she looks. Being kind is sometimes more important than being honest.

Being honest, though, can sometimes be the way to be kind, even if it might not seem so at the moment. If Aunt Sally’s hat is going to violate zoning ordinances at the party she is attending, it may upset her that she now has to rethink her entire outfit, but that would be better than arriving at the party and being locked out. This is a weird example, I know, but you get the idea. You have to think about things in complete context to keep honesty and kindness in a proper relationship with each other. You can’t just rely on “I’m always honest,” or “I’m always kind,” because life is more complicated than that. If you are going to navigate life with mindful intent then you will have to think things through occasionally and not just rely on blanket rules.

It is entirely normal that you may need to keep a collection of masks handy, and have some skill at switching them out as necessary. Your face is the better face, and a healthy response to the world requires showing your face the majority of the time, but a mask can be the healthy response under a variety of circumstances. Strangers don’t need to always know your innermost thoughts, and sometimes “How do you do?” just means “Hello.” Life is a complex system of moving and interacting parts, and living a healthy life means that we make every honest effort we can to work within that complex system without causing it or ourselves to break down.

Take, for example, a situation where you have a pain, you have a solution for that pain at home, and you have a well-meaning friend between you and home. Your friend asks how you are doing, and will be entirely sympathetic toward, but will also be unable to assist in any way with your pain. In fact, despite honestly meaning to help, explaining the situation to your friend will only serve to delay you from getting to the solution, prolonging your pain without benefit to anyone. You can be open and honest, explaining the situation to your friend anyway, or you can grin and bear it, put on a happy mask, and promise to catch up later. Choose wisely.

There is no wrong answer to that situation, in case you were curious. I know which option I would favor, but there is nothing wrong with either one. If you are moving forward without causing unnecessary damage, you are meeting expectations, at least. The point to this little exercise is simply to demonstrate that choosing a mask can be a good answer. I believe that it can even be the better answer in some circumstances, but you will have to make that determination for yourself. I only offer, as evidence, the fact that wearing a mask in this situation would lead to a speedier resolution of pain without transferring the pain or leading to a new round of pain as a result. If you would feel better about it, by all means, explain to your friend later. Just understand that you haven’t hurt anything, and you have helped something to stop hurting.

There are two restrictions that I would apply to the healthy use of masks: Masks are for temporary use only, and masks are not for private usage.

The first one might seem obvious, but that is often not the case. We are creatures of habit, and anything we do often or long enough tends to stick. If we spend enough time wearing masks, we get used to wearing masks and forget to take them off. Honesty really is the best policy, though, and it’s best to show your real face as often as possible. If you find that it is not safe, healthy, or comfortable to go sans mask on a regular basis, you might want to examine the circumstances making this the case. There may be something else you can address that could lead to a resolution of both issues. Odds are, you are not the Phantom of the Opera. Remove the mask and let your face breathe whenever possible. It’s good for you.

You cannot live mindfully by lying to yourself. Those are incompatible actions. If you are wearing a mask in private - if you are telling yourself that everything is fine when it is not fine - you are actively preventing mindful awareness. Worse, you are preventing things from becoming fine. You cannot fix a problem that you will not address. We occasionally wear masks in public to prevent pain and to keep things running smoothly. Wearing a mask in private, though, ultimately causes pain and prevents things from running smoothly. That is the opposite of healthy behavior.

Masks can serve a useful function, and using them can be a healthy outlet, as long as we maintain such actions in reasonable proportions. It’s the season to be aware of masks and disguises, hopefully in fun and entertaining ways, and it’s a good time to examine how they can fit into our daily lives. Just make sure that you’re wearing the mask and not being the mask. As long as you maintain that distinction, there’s a good chance that you are at least pointed in the right direction.

We're running Halloween posts from the past this week, in case you missed them or just might want to read them again. Meanwhile, we are preparing for Halloween at Casa Frequently Interrupted. Hope you have a great week, and a great holiday.

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