"We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
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.