In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot said, “There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
Why must we communicate through falsities? Why do we feel safest when not ourselves?
Oscar Wilde said, “Give a man a mask, and he’ll tell you the truth.” Only when our true identity is hidden can we be totally honest. This statement is true, as is Eliot’s. Everyone has a face that he or she, in the words of Paul McCartney, “keeps in a jar by the door.”
For whom do we wear these faces? In high school, I put on a mask each morning, in order to face the school day without conflicts that otherwise would have hindered my learning experience. Mine may have been more transparent than others, but it was still a mask. In order to conceal the anger I harbor toward ignorance and stupidity, I feigned to enjoy certain aspects of the six-hour day. I talked with my friends about boys, music, movies, how awful our teachers were, anything to stop my mind from reminding me how miserable I really was there.
The mask also enabled me to hide emotions and thoughts that no one else, not even a close friend, was allowed to know. I wore the mask so that I would not be the enemy of every person at my school.
Of course there are those who will always hate the one who challenges their beliefs, but wearing the bland mask of congeniality allowed me to associate with at least a few of the Philistines without releasing the hostility that raged in my mind.
I assume that people also wore masks for me, since what narrow-minded person can stand to hear his thoughts challenged without his showing anger? I appreciate the masks they wore for me, as I hope they appreciate the mask I wore for them.
When I wear the mask of tolerance, I am able to see clearly other people’s views, because my judgment of them is not as clouded by my own views. I am able to see their side of the story, and can make my point clearer without offending, because of the clarity I achieve by wearing that face. In this way, not only do I tell more of the truth, but I also learn it from someone I may not have listened to without the concealment of my mask.
Masks are our way of communicating with one another, when trust is not possible. We cannot speak openly when we see each other’s true face. It is only when that and our own true faces are covered do we feel safe enough to reveal our own dark secrets.
This may be why alcohol is so popular. Alcohol masks inhibition, and transforms the person we know our self to be. Only when we are under the mask of drunkenness do we bare our souls to friends, coworkers, and sometimes even to our opponents, because the consequences fall upon the drunken mask and not upon the true self.
This is why we wear masks; to bear truth without consequence.