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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why should the world be over-wise in counting all our tears and sighs?

I was rifling school records the other day and found my scratch paper from when I took the American Lit CLEP. It was pretty sad, the paper only said one thing on it. "Paul mask." I really should be more complete when I take notes. At any rate, I remember that it was a poem from the test that I hadn't recognized, so I Googled it. And now I remember why it originally caught my attention.

"We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!


While the poem deals mostly with the prejudice of the time, the first thing I thought of when I read it was the mask imposed not by bigots and racists but by a society that frowns on transparency. Why should we be honest about how we're really feeling if we'll only be judged for it? Like when people ask, "Hey, how are you?" and keep walking without pausing for an answer. When they do stop, they don't expect more than a "fine" or "good." "How are you" is a social formality. If you're really feeling horrible and share those feelings in earnest, you're made to feel guilty for unloading your problems on someone who didn't really want to hear it. And we wonder why "emo" is an epidemic.

People feel like they need to wear masks, because transparency isn't socially acceptable. Part of it's pride, a fear of being judged, an indulgence in self-pity - the individual's problem. But part of it's my fault. I'm part of the problem: for writing others' feelings off as "emo," for judging people for these expressions, for responding awkwardly to acts of transparency, for not being transparent myself. Is it so hard to be honest and upfront? Is it so hard to reach out to those who hide their bleeding hearts with smiles? I don't want to impose a mask on anyone, I don't want to make anyone wear a mask I don't want to wear myself. 

7 comments:

K-Mac said...

Everyone wears a mask, whether they want to or not. You aren't imposing one on them, they aren't imposing one on you.

Transparency is just a see-through mask.

I don't know if that made any sense, but now I'm thinking about it.

Thanks for making me think. :)

Art said...

Wow, so true, Hayleybird. By being insensitive to people's honesty, we perpetuate the fear of transparency. I want to be completely transparent, but I don't want my confessions to be shrugged off. Despite this fear, I've got to be honest. I have to stop caring what others think, and instead reach for truth.
Please, please, let's be real. Help me to be like Jesus, and be patient as I learn to unfasten my mask. <3

Micah E. said...

Our lives are all just an act, to keep us safe from attack. Because underneath the mask, we're all as ugly as the Phantom, we despise what we see in the mirror, and hide it so that we don't feel pain of being rejected by others.

Everybody has a mask on, and the only ourselves and God see us without it on. Those we are closest too are those who see faintly through the mask, and whose masks we see faintly through.

Michael said...

Very true Hayley, and I echo Micah's commments. Sometimes I want to rip of the mask and let someone see me for a moment, and from time to time I do rip a piece off, but I'm always confused between whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. To be absolutely and completely honest with someone isn't easy. And at other times I want to rip other people's masks off, so I can see THEM for who they are, but it seems that every mask has a keyhole that only the owner has the key to. But, is it right to try and persuade people to unlock it?

Hayley said...

I think this topic is big, much bigger than I had originally thought. I'm very overwhelmed now by all these questions. What is the nature of these masks? How can we tell the difference between honest transparency and reckless honesty? Is there a difference? Why is it even important to be transparent in the first place? Can we really see ourselves through our masks? Is it worth it to attempt to see through the masks of others? Is that even permissible? I think I got ahead of myself with this post.

Part of me (and I was thinking this guiltily when I originally wrote the post) doesn't want to see behind other people's masks, part of me wants to keep my mask firmly in place, but then, that's the puzzle of human beings. Like Dr. Manette we prefer captivity and bondage when it's all we've ever known. Transparency, like the kind of freedom is it, seems like a very scary thing.

But the root is this: when people are transparent, am I going to judge them for it? And will I meet their transparency with equal candidness? I don't want to perpetuate fear and pride.

Michael said...

I'd say that transparency ought to be the natural progression of a friendship, that slowly over time people become more trusting of someone and allow themselves to be more and more open with that person, however I'd say that being too transparent too quickly tends to shut people off, and isn't productive. *shrug*

Hannah said...

I agree with Art. Well said!!!!