Masks are becoming a graphic declaration about who we are. As with any assertion, interpretation is everything.
For many, masks separate the selfish from the selfless. For some, wearing them is to give in to fear. Masks are a visceral, visual symbol of the divide that separates us.
We begin to understand one another when we can recognize what’s behind the mask.
We all wear them. They are the façade we have carefully created over a lifetime to cope with judgement, apprehension and pain. Our masks protect us. They propel us in the direction of goals we fear we could never achieve if anyone found out who we really were.
They begin as malleable clay, fired over time by experience and cultural indoctrination into porcelain protection.
Our authentic selves hide behind the mask. Come to know that real person and you will understand the basis behind the behaviors.
Behind the mask may be a person who knows someone who is gravely ill or dying.
Behind the mask may be someone who isn’t sure where the next mortgage payment is coming from.
Behind the mask might be a healthcare worker, first responder or teacher, an essential worker who knowingly faces danger and is trying to protect themselves so they can do it again tomorrow.
Behind the mask might be insecurity, a broken-hearted child in an adult’s body or someone who has never known the enlightenment that can come with an education.
Acknowledging what lies behind the mask doesn’t mean accepting unacceptable behavior. But it can be the key to addressing it, overcoming it and adjusting your own mask to move forward when the painful current reality feels like it’s more than you can endure.
My friend, Author Danielle Gerard shared a story about a health care worker who asked a seat mate on a recent flight why he wasn’t wearing a mask.
“It’s a free country,” was his answer.
Behind his own invisible mask might be ignorance, a lifetime of rejection and programmed hatred, or perhaps just simple stupidity. He was smart enough to follow the rules about seat belts and putting his laptop under the seat in front of him. Sadly, he does not understand another fundamental concept that can protect him, and all those around him from harm.
If I were the health care worker, I would have pressed the attendant call button and gently asked for a different seat.
Every day, we see high profile examples of people who are influencing our current reality in profound and not always positive ways.
As you watch them in action, look behind the mask. Why they do what they do may well emerge.
But if it’s not in sync with what you feel is right, demand a different seat.