The titles we live by, or give ourselves. The identity we cling to in order to feel secure, in place, in line; they give us a sense of belonging; a boat of security in stormy seas.
Who are we though when no one is watching? What mask do we wear, or not wear at home behind closed doors with the people closest to us? Do our public and private personas match up?
Most of the time, it’s not the titles we use that define us. It is the moral we try and represent that does. The ethic we espouse and sling over our shoulder like a pair of big balls on an attitudey squirrel.
The family first politician who was caught cheating on his wife with a prostitute, the traditional marriage proponent caught with a teen boy in his limousine, etc. These examples, although dramatic, and great fun for the media pundits to use, are far less real than how we are in our day to day lives.
Every time I write an article, I try and sit with myself first. How do I act with this topic? Do I practice what I preach? Most of the time, I try and stay as true to my beliefs as possible, but like all humans, I fall and falter.
Typically you will know this because I try and hold myself accountable by posting some ridiculous public confession about being more faulted than most. Trying to keep my head low and grounded, remaining humble.
There are times though, when I feel so caught up in my circumstances that I feel I am nothing like what I profess to be. Like most men, I probably pout too much, I am probably a big baby when I am sick, and try as I might, boobs are distracting. Yet, when I tell you, sit, breath, be present…I am doing the same work. When I tell you to not pile other issues on top of your anger or disappointment, I am also working with that same issue in mind.
The core of what I am getting at though isn’t about me or any one specific person. It is about how we are in general. We wear masks to hide our insecurities or we use masks to justify our behaviors or anger.
How often do we say, “It’s just who I am,” or “You just want me to be someone else.” In a basic sense, these may be true, but in a deeper emotional level, we are not solitary beings whose actions only influence ourselves. Every volitional act has a ripple effect. We create peace or war with our masks and our justifications.
We expect punctuality, presence, love and compassion, yet we offer very little. We want to be accepted, warts and all, yet our judgments of others tend to motivate us more than they should. Both Buddhism and Christianity offer a moral statement about judging others while we carry around our own filth and ignore it.Pointing the finger at the parents who over scolded their kids while we spank our own with a leather belt for the slightest deviation on what we deem appropriate behavior.
The examples are endless, I am sure you can think of a million on your own. What is important though, are not the examples of what others do, but what we are doing. How are we engaging each moment with ourselves and those around us? It is a popular adage right now that what happens behind closed doors doesn’t matter. I am not one who buys into this though. I tend to think what happens when no one is watching is the mask we truly carry. It is the personality that sneaks through the cracks of our personal Phantom of the Opera.
So while we all have our identifiers in a social world, we also have the masks of character and truth as well. It isn’t the identifier that matters though, my reciting Buddhist mantras or your teachings at a university—it is the simple moment to moment actions that fill in the spaces of our social facade. Be honest when you falter and rejoice when you are doing great. It isn’t the shiny mirror ball that makes you who you are—it’s the solidity of the mortar you use to hold your house together.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Patricia Pak