It's Time to Take Off that Mask

July 13, 2008
By Benjamin Ascherman, New York, NY

It's Time to Take Off that Mask

Appearances and reality. The older I get, the more I notice people and parts of life around me that are not always what I thought they were. My parents are always right and they always know what to do. Teachers know what they are doing, and they never make mistakes. The world is a wonderful place where everyone loves each other. All of this, I sadly now realize, is naiveté. Yet almost every child grows up believing the above. In a state of complete dependency upon adults and with such limited knowledge, that is perhaps the only way to view the world. Yet children inevitably grow and become teenagers, and with greater knowledge and experience we are all destined to realize that the world is much more complicated than we thought it was. Normal parts of life, such as jobs and politeness, contain depths that can be disturbing to explore.

For most teenagers, life consists of home and school. The contrast of appearances and reality begins here and spreads outward. School is a very social place. In an environment where nobody wants to look bad, or where people want attention, they often act differently then they do at home. A person who has grown up always being funny might not want to appear goofy in front of others during school, especially teachers. By the same token, a different student who is quiet at home might enjoy and seize the different opportunities to receive attention during school. Because of environmental differences, it is not always easy acting the same way at home as around classmates, friends, or in a classroom.

The same ideas apply in public areas, such as work or temple. A mature person realizes that while he may feel free to act however he or she wants to at home, in public, it is best to act with proper conduct and self control. A hilarious father who makes funny faces for his children at home might not necessarily want his boss to think he is a clown. Although one may argue that the above is simply how society works, and that almost anybody would naturally act differently at home than in public, this difference in behavior is essentially the root of fake appearances and may hide true personalities.

Little children are often impatient to become "grown ups," and that is because they yearn for the privileges, the control, and the power that seems inherent in adults. Yet as children mature intellectually and physically, they begin to realize that adults are not that different than they are. Like all human beings, they make mistakes and have faults. When the screen that naiveté forms is uncovered, and teenagers begin to make these realizations, it becomes more and more apparent that the jobs that people have and the suitable appearances that accompany them can sometimes mask the true personalities of these role-players. Whether being a parent, doctor, or businessman, certain images are often necessary for these jobs. Parents try not to fight around children, and a good doctor does not reveal his anxiety to a patient he thinks might not make it. People want to look good for their jobs; a role-player masks his faults to make his appearance shine, and there really is nothing wrong with that. Although, once again, this is simply the way life works, one can argue that life can therefore be misleading, for many people adopt these appearances that hide reality.

Politeness is another accepted law of society that people live by, yet, like the above, it has the ability to mask reality. One of the traits that distinguishes humans from animals is the fact that we are civilized. Therefore, when a group of people are sitting at a table, and one individual is barely able to swallow a piece of meatloaf because of an overwhelming nausea from its taste, he does not tell the cook that it was horrific, but rather kindly says that it was delicious. In addition, if the cook asks if he wants another slice, he says "no thank you" and not "G-d help me, no." This is just a mild example of politeness, and yet it is obvious how it can be false and deceiving (and harmful to the cook's next guests). But then there are those times when politeness can really be a barrier and can cause someone difficulty in getting what they want. A person being interviewed for a job might have difficulty understanding what he is being asked because the interviewer is speaking way too fast. Telling him "stop talking so fast I have no idea what you are talking about," might be effective, yet out of lack of politeness the interviewer might be insulted and deny him the job. Again, like role playing, politeness is just a way of life. Yet it really can put up an appearance that conceals reality.

It is just one step from the above to more complicated situations such as hypocrisy and deceit. Sometimes, for example, people are so absorbed in their jobs that they live intense examples of role playing. Others are so used to acting differently in public that they can develop an ability that enables them to constantly change the way they act depending on who they are surrounded by. People who do this might start out thinking it is to their advantage. They can act kind, calm, and admirable in front of certain people, and nasty, arrogant, or ostentatious in front of others. In this way they hope to please those that they care about or intimidate them, such as parents or bosses. At the same time, they try to conform with others, such as friends, because they want to fit in and have fun. Furthermore, they might display low tolerance, interest, or care for people they deem as unpopular or unimportant, people they might see only once in a blue moon. Such performing acts cannot last forever, for a double identity is just too hard to maintain. Moreover, although they may think they have everyone exactly where they want, they are in fact only fooling themselves. It is a burden to act differently all the time. A person who acts as himself no matter who he is surrounded by has nothing to hide and can therefore enjoy much more freedom.

It is disturbing to think that people we see every day or at least people who we think we know very well are perhaps, in reality, different. Besides family, who we live with, is there any way to tell what somebody's personality is really like? Perhaps the best answer is to assume that most people are simply who they appear to be, and that is that. A polite, friendly person that always smiles is just a kind person and there is no reason to suspect otherwise. Of course he may have faults that he prefers not to reveal, and that, as discussed above, is normal. As for politeness, although it may conceal the truth, it is better to have it than to live barbarically without it.

It is therefore best to give people the benefit of the doubt and not to philosophize about each and every person we encounter, but rather be aware that in some cases appearances can hide reality. There is a famous quote that says "character is when nobody is looking." This does contain a great deal of truth, for when one is alone he has nobody to impress, nobody is there to judge him, and he therefore can act freely and sincerely. However, it is also during exactly opposite situations that one's character can truly be revealed. One's true character can be found based on how he chooses to act around different groups of people. Whether or not somebody decides to treat everyone equally certainly shows a lot about his or her personality.

Similar Articles


This article has 6 comments.

joscruz123 said...
on Oct. 28 2008 at 10:37 pm
This author has a lot of insight about the true nature of people. I commend him on his perceptiveness at such a young age. I really enjoyed reading this article.

Mrs. C said...
on Oct. 27 2008 at 11:40 pm
This is a perfect example of how one catches more flies with honey than vinegar. Great job!

Martha said...
on Aug. 26 2008 at 11:24 am
Enormous...the best article I have read so far on this website. This young man is truly brilliant.

dorph said...
on Aug. 25 2008 at 9:36 pm
excellant thoughtful article by a young person emerging into an exploration of his own values, perceptions of others, and how to apply his increasing personal growth judiciously

Jaa7 said...
on Aug. 19 2008 at 12:22 am
Fantastic article!!!

corinne said...
on Aug. 17 2008 at 8:46 pm
excellent , outstanding


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!