I read with interest an article published recently by my fellow Zilzar Life writer, Sim Wan Yong, on the contrast between the masks of Venice versus our own daily social masks. The Venetian Carnival masks were adorned and decorative, while our own personal masks tend to be invisible. Yet they both serve the function of obscuring our true nature, and presenting a public face that is more appealing than what may be behind it.
Human beings are complicated creatures; our personalities tend to be non-linear. Our worldly circumstances will never line up completely with our every desire or ambition. Try as we might, we can never fully bend reality to suit our whims. Thus, we by nature have to conform to adjust to what is outside. This adjustment process normally results in contradictions and inconsistencies between the way we live our lives and our fundamental characters. As long as this discrepancy is not too big or apparent, we can proceed with life relatively unhindered.
Sometimes, however, the distance between who we are and what we show is so much that the strain becomes hypocrisy. Then we tend to assume our masks and pretend to be someone else. The worst masks are those that we are unaware we are even wearing. The mask becomes a defense mechanism to allow us to function socially and assume a designated role, but we cannot ignore the doubts inside for eternity.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote about the age of youth being from adolescence to around 35 to 40 years old. In this time, we assume our identities and develop those main characteristics that define our personalities. The masks we initially assume in response to group pressure become firmly in place. We imbibe the hypocrisy fully. We need to be tough while having a soft core, pious while internally devious, patient while secretly damning.
But after this sunshine age, Jung writes, we often experience a crisis in our identity, perhaps what we now call the midlife crisis. The mask begins to wear thin. According to Jung, our response can range from a hardening of our existing values, to the point where they become crusted over or near fanatical. On the flip side, we may end up rejecting our earlier selves altogether, inverting our identity to become the someone we were silently rejecting for so many years.
In my short life of 30-odd years, I have envied those few individuals whose faces I know I am really seeing, and not some mask. They exude a peace that comes with being at peace with themselves. But I can’t help but think that there is something clearly wrong with the modern age in how it demands us to adopt personas at odds with our inner selves. When I read of that ways and manners of pre-modern people, I see an abundance of flaws but somehow they come across as more whole and intact than we moderns.
I like to ask my wife occasionally about which super power she would pick if she could be granted one. When the question is turned on me, I usually think first of telepathy, the ability to read one’s thoughts. But I quickly move on to something else, since having knowledge of the inner hypocrisies of whomever I meet would be too great a burden for me to bear. I would rather live in the world of masks that we have. Imperfect it may be, sometimes the truth is best left covered.