If you have ever interacted with me, odds are really good (nearing 100%) that for some period of time, I was hiding behind a mask. The mask is a symbol that resonates with me, it’s a slight alteration to what you perceive that makes you think that I am something that I might not be. It’s absolutely a learned behavior for me, and it’s served me very well for a long time. I can put on a mask and operate convincingly enough to get by until I no longer need the mask and can stop putting it on.
I’m still on the fence about how inauthentic this makes me. I was asked recently if I felt like wearing masks around people made my interactions with them any less genuine, and I found myself concerned by the implication. It’s probably something to do with the amount of time I’ve spent interacting through avatars online, and aliases, and other, similar constructs. The interactions I have through the mask, whatever form that may take, are no less genuine. If they were, the mask wouldn’t be any good, and I take a lot of pride in my masks.
A good mask is a (hand)crafted thing, it takes effort and focus to make, and it’s molded to some degree to the wearer. An ill-fitting mask is obvious, and isn’t going to fool anyone. A much better analogy is cosmetics, the makeup that many people put on every day. Good makeup is nearly invisible– I’ve heard people laugh about comments that “they look so good without their makeup”, when they’re actually wearing the precise amount to make it look like they aren’t wearing any and are just naturally amazing looking. It’s another sort of mask, but it’s one that reflects the self.
Modern high school entrance
The mask was my tool for surviving high school– I had a wide network of acquaintances and was known, albeit not well known, by a lot of people in my high school, most of whom had wildly varying ideas about what I was like, based on their limited interactions with me. I could easily slip from mask to mask, putting a different, subtle spin on how I presented myself to fit in best with whoever I was dealing with at the time. These were all facets of me; it was just a matter of what I was showing. The mask simply made it look like that was the complete picture, and put people at ease. I had a small group of very close friends who never saw the masks, because they’d known me from before I started using them, and I’ve found myself always cultivating that close group of friends who I can go maskless around.
It wasn’t until later that I started carefully crafting masks for other things. After a breakup that I regretted, I wondered about what I might have done better, and tried to imagine what the person who didn’t make the mistakes I had would be like. Those ideas went into a new mask, one that I didn’t quite fit into, but that I wanted to. It took years of work to grow into that mask, to learn to communicate and appreciate and reciprocate. I got a lot of credit in that time for being things I knew I wasn’t– the mask was those things, and I was learning to become those things, but it was still an effort rather than a natural thing.
I grew into raid leading in a similar way, observing and researching and carefully constructing a mask that I could wear that looked like what I wanted to be, and slowly growing into it. I’ve always learned by doing, and preparing safe situations where I can try something until I’m confident in my abilities with it has always been a favorite tactic of mine.
I’ve reached the point now where I’ve grown into a lot of the masks I’ve constructed, to the point where I realize how incomplete they really were as I’ve grown past them. Rather than constructing ever more elaborate ones, however, I’ve lately been trying to see what it’s like to not wear any at all. That itself is a kind of mask, the sort of confident person who ironically doesn’t need a mask. It’s forced me to think of myself not as a collection of masks, but more like a die, with various faces that I present appropriately. I still think it’s valuable to present myself differently based on who I’m talking to or what situation I’m in; I feel like that’s just de rigeur for social interactions, but I think making that my default for interacting with people keeps them further away than I’d like.
A lot of this is that I’ve moved from a place that felt really hostile to my personality and interests to one that feels a lot more welcoming and safe. The concept of “safe spaces” is a really important one that isn’t well communicated, I don’t think, especially considering how much of a difference it makes. You don’t need to have suffered trauma or be dealing with fear to benefit from a safe space– you can be perfectly functional and learn to grow further in one.
Safe spaces make me think of Bel. It’s not how he would describe his approach to people, but what he does is create safe spaces for people to relax, be themselves, and grow in. The recurring #BelEffect joke revolves around “Bel’s candy van”, but in reality it’s more like an exclusive club where everyone is nice to one another and the bouncers are huge and strict, but also know you by name. A cruise ship is perhaps also an apt metaphor, especially for a group like Greysky (our FFXIV group). I might be the captain, but Bel is the cruise director, and he creates the safe space while I steer the ship.
It’s a role I don’t even have to put on a mask to do– the behind-the-scenes facilitator. It’s a comfortable role for me, and one that suits my capabilities and preferences. I’ve always been better at the man-behind-the-curtain role.
Source: Digital Initiative