Who are we really?

A not-so-daily response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Mask

This is a question that I spend way more time on than I should. What is the self? Who am I? Am I constant over the years or do I change? How do people see me and how does it differ from how I see myself? Are we the same person to all of our friends? What about the people we don’t like, how do they see us and what do we show them? I’m sure you don’t me to explain but the list goes on, and on, and on. At any two separate stages in your life can you justifiably say that you were the same person? Equally, how can you say that you were different each time – see the contradiction?

In my view, we all are just inventors that masquerade under countless different faces. To people on the side of the road, whom I cannot afford to care for, I wear the mask of grim indifference. I am sad for them, but I cannot help them without putting myself and my dependents in a worse situation. I wear a similar mask to the victims of natural disasters, economic depressions and war. I feel bad for the situation they were forced into but I don’t try to relate to them for I know I will never be able to, and if I come close to understanding how they feel then I may wallow into an emotional state that I am unable to get myself out of.

To those who are near me but not too close, I show myself as relatively muted and lacking in emotion. Here, I feel the most threatened. These are the people that I could get along with if I tried but there is no natural sparking between souls. The ones who are closest to me and the ones whom I have lived with for most of my life, I show myself as overprotective, sensitive but reflective, full of gaiety and not deserving of praise.

I have other masks that I show in other situations, most commonly when more than one person is present. However am I the same person, or am I different people all bottled into one? A pair of stances that are valid here, one which says that the similarities between each ‘mask’ means that you are essentially the same. Another which takes the inverse approach, focussing on the differences that separate us. Another perspective would focus on how the social context determines which mask is worn. By looking more carefully at how the different masks described above differ in accordance to the level of formality of the situation. This view promotes some kind of third-party far more openly than the others. It clearly emphasises that there is a ‘mask maker’ of sorts. One who lies behind the masks and determines what mask to wear and when to wear it.

Just a point for clarity, I know my use of the word ‘mask’ implies some kind of harsh distinction, a strict change in personality, but that is not the case. Two masks could be identical except for a slight difference in fashion sense. I like to think that each mask exists on a stretched out continuum, extending from raw anger to placidity. The real question is whether there is this mask maker, if (s)he chooses a mask in order to hide something, or if (s)he chooses the mask in order to express something. For both uses of the mask are equally effective, yet they seem to not be able to exist without the other.

The theory of the mask-maker allows for people to be everything and anything that they want to be, all at once, without being anything more than them. They are one person, but can express thousands of different personas. A further point of clarity should be made on the ability of masks to be purely for the point of expressing an emotion. I am not a person who can say that I was ever truly mad at someone. Indeed, I very often put on a fake mask to display an emotion which I do not actually feel. One part because I feel obligated to, one part because it is the only way I can get my point across. Another, perhaps better, example would be that of scorn. I have never met anyone who has defined themselves by scorn, yet I imagine most of us have treated another with disdain whether we intended to or not. This is the part of ‘mask-choosing’ that I find most interesting as it might just be the hardest part to reconcile into the theory. Is a natural switch between personality tones a change in masks or is this a solid refutation to the theory?

I am inclined to think that despite the fact that no conscious choice was made to switch to an expression like scorn, it does not refute the theory. All it shows is that the mask-maker, is who we really are, even though they are non-existent. The most outwardly real evidence to who we are, is all of our masks combined into one.

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