This Purim, let’s take a peak at ourselves beneath the facade.
As Purim dawns, the young and young at heart will don their masks and transform their persona into the hero, villain or neutral character of their choice. And we of the more adult variety smile indulgently as they pretend to be someone they are not for the duration of the Yom Tov. But if we were to be truly honest with ourselves, we would be able to acknowledge that on some level, we each wear a mask, or several, all year long. What are these masks we wear, and why do we wear them?
Let’s take a look at some of the common masks we tend to don; chances are you might find yourself hiding beneath at least one of them!
The Thick-Skinned Mask. I tell you I don’t care, but really I do. I laugh with you while you say hurtful words, but then, in the privacy of my bedroom I rip off my mask and I cry and cry. And you marvel at my ability to take criticism, and you tell me wisely, “I’m only telling you this because I know you can handle it. You’re so easygoing, it’s amazing.” But my pillow will tell you a whole other story.
The Conforming Mask. I want to do things differently. I want to skip down the street instead of walking; I want to wear the colors I like even when you’re all wearing black and I want to make choices that you may never have heard of, let alone approve of. But I am scared of your surprised looks and whispered judgments. I have to do what is done, not what is me. So I just put on my black mask and walk sedately down the street in it, then driving the right car from the right house in the right neighborhood to the right school wearing the right styles, just like you.
The Perfection Mask. My house was flying moments ago, my nerves are frayed and I’m totally spent. But I let you into my home and it’s a picture of perfection, and my makeup is perfectly done and our voice carefully modulated and you marvel at my sheer geshiktedness and how I manage to accomplish so much, superwoman that I am. But you don’t see my closet doors shelves groaning under the weight of the junk I’ve thrown in (and don’t you dare open them!) and you don’t see my children sulking in the aftermath of the storm of tears I created just to get here. And you definitely don’t see my husband splayed in his bed, exhausted at the marathon he ran to help me create the illusion that I have it all together and that I am, indeed, superwoman.
The Normal Mask. I’m strange and I’m different and I come from a strange and different background and family, but chas veshalom to let that on. I want nothing more than to be normal, just like everyone else. So I hide my background and I take extra care in looking the part and acting the part so my cover should not be blown. That is my worst nightmare, to be discovered as an interloper into your charmed world of normalcy. So intent am I on keeping up appearances, I don’t stop to think that perhaps my strength and vitality is in my strangeness, that perhaps my different experiences have taught me a lot that I can now share with you.
The Confident Mask. I have no idea what I am doing here, but you would never know. I talk like I am the expert, I walk into the room like I own it, but inside my boots I am quaking with the fear that you will discover me for the imposter that I am. Ironically, you are quaking in your boots, because I have perfected my confidence mask and you feel intimidated in the face of my supreme know-it-allness. Well, joke’s on both of us.
The Everything-is-ok-and-I’m-feeling-fine Mask. I can’t really let on that I have had a hard day and I just need a shoulder to cry on, someone to tell me I’m doing great even though I don’t feel like I am. That would just seem vulnerable and needy. So instead I paste on the cheerful smile and I tell you that everything is just fine and you smile right back at me and tell me that everything is just fine by you too, thank you very much. And we both just keep smiling as we pass each other by.
The Pious Mask. Inside I am a flawed human being and I am greatly lacking in several areas of my avodas Hashem. But I can’t let that on for fear that you will no longer respect me. So I act like a tzadik on the street, and just to make sure the facade is complete, I will admonish you from my high horse for your own lack in tzidkus that I can see from where I stand.
The I-like-you Mask. You’re driving me crazy and I want to tell you what I really think of you. I want to ask you to go away; I want to make you stop talking. I want to tell you that your dress is ugly when you ask my opinion. But I can’t do it. So I paste on a smile and tolerate you and tell you what you want to hear.
The Successful Mask. I’ve failed or I’m struggling but I will never let on. My finances are a mess, but I still maintain a materialistic lifestyle, throwing myself further into debt. I pretend to have an office full of employees but truthfully, it’s just me. I post glamorous pictures of my family on social media, but I’m hiding the fighting and the strife that goes on behind the scenes. I need the world to see the successes I wish I had.
These are the “what’s.” But why? Why do we wear them? Why can’t we just be authentic?
We wear them because we are afraid of what people will say about us.
We wear them because we are lonely and insecure and don’t feel good about ourselves.
We wear them because we are afraid to be different.
We wear them because we don’t want to hurt others.
We wear them because our children make us wear them.
We wear them because they might be right, after all, shidduchim.
We wear them because we were raised by people who wore them and put them on us and we now don’t know any different.
Why we wear them and how to get rid of them can be explored from a psychological standpoint. In order to do so, there are a few questions we can ask ourselves. First: What does my true self look like? What is holding me back from being authentic? What am I afraid of? What might need to happen for me to feel comfortable in my own skin? What voices am I listening to that dictate my persona? What voices can I replace them with?
But then we have the question: should we wear them? Perhaps some of our masks are beneficial and we shouldn’t be so quick to shed them. Are they duplicitous and deceptive or self-preservatory and civil? That is a question each person has to answer for themselves, depends on the nature of the mask and its ramifications.
Allowing yourself to become too vulnerable can be devastating if that vulnerability is betrayed. Expressing how you really feel when those feelings are hurtful and cutting can be cruel to the party on the receiving end of your authenticity. Maintaining a higher level of piety in observance than you feel in your heart can serve as a goal post for the heights you wish to achieve and can motivate you to claim those higher levels as your own, merging mask and mind.
In these and similar cases, perhaps masks have their purpose. But there are three main downsides to donning that mask:
We aren’t being true to ourselves. The masks we wear are not the same as those Purim masks, chosen from a catalogue, borrowed from a gemach or dug up from a Purim box and then worn for a day before being stuffed into the depths of said box until next year. These are masks we wear all day every day; we wear them so often they become practically a part of our skin. They begin to stick to our deeper persona to the point that we lose sight of where mask ends and skin begins, namely, we lose sight of who we really are.
Hashem made each of us unique and gave us unique strengths, personalities and quirks, and what a shame it is when we hide all that individual beauty under the stuffy mask we wear. There are so many people who can do the things that anyone can do, but only you have the power to accomplish what is uniquely yours. By stifling parts of yourself, you are denying yourself the opportunity to reach your true potential.
When you are too busy trying to adjust your mask to what society expects of you, you fail to tune into your inner voice that propels you toward your goals. And besides, it’s exhausting to live an inauthentic life, to constantly look over your shoulder to make sure that your mask isn’t slipping. Breathe easier by being real.
We aren’t being true to Hashem. Hashem’s seal is emes, and the masks that we wear often fly in the face of that. Living a life of emes requires that our inside and outside be aligned.
Our avodas Hashem is hindered when we focus more on what society expects of us and what image we strive to convey than what Hashem expects of us and what we know to be right. He gave us all that we have, He gave us our quirks, our strengths and our weaknesses, our likes and our dislikes, our personality, our package and our financial state. By shoving those into a mask and pretending to be what we are not, we are effectively telling Hashem that we are not happy with what He has given us, but rather, we know better what we should and could be.
We can lie to our friends, we can lie to our neighbors, we can even lie to ourselves if we are that good at it. But we can never lie to Hashem. Man sees the outer facade, but Hashem will always see through to our heart.
We aren’t being true to our friends. If you walk into a room where everyone’s face is purple and yours is the only one that is green, I wouldn’t blame you for putting on a purple mask; it’s hard to be the only one who is different. But what if everyone else is really wearing a purple mask too, and underneath the masks you will find faces of all different hues and shades. The first two to enter the room were indeed purple-faced, leading the next person to take one look around and quickly put on her purple mask. And from there, everyone who entered felt the need to put on that mask so that they don’t stand out. And we’re all getting stuffy under our masks, standing there foolishly and stiffly, thinking that there is no way we can be authentic because we would be the only one.
Imagine if just a few of us would take off that mask, paving the way for others to feel comfortable enough to do so. I think of this when I hear many people make comments like, “The standard of living is becoming so high; it’s so hard to keep up.” Or, “I wish we didn’t have to do things that way, but I don’t want to be the only one.” And when you feel like you are the only one, it truly is hard. But truthfully, there are so many others who feel the same way, they just can’t be true to their beliefs because no one else is.
Imagine we took that brave plunge of not trying to fit the mold, not trying to live up to the mask, thereby giving our friends and family the courage to do the same. We can show them that it is okay to be vulnerable, it is okay to be imperfect, because we are giving ourselves permission to be authentic. What a great gift we are giving them, and of course ourselves!
There are some people who truly don’t wear masks. (Unless they’re wearing an unmasked-mask!) They are authentic, real and raw, and it’s so blessedly refreshing. You get the sense that you can be vulnerable and open and real with them and still feel safe while doing so. You can be that person for your family and friends, opening yourself up to deeper connection and open communication not lost in the confusing labyrinth of the webs we weave when trying to be who we think we should be and who we want you to think that we really are.
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