Monday, April 6, 2009

In the dark

"Character is what you are in the dark." -- Anonymous.

I've tried in vain to discover who first said this, but whoever it was showed keen insight. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to apply to a wide variety of situations.

During the day, many of us put on a mask that reflects the expectations of others. We hide elements of our thoughts, motivations, desires and emotions in an attempt to present an acceptable face in our jobs and our relationships. And in this hiding we are, to some extent, denying essential parts of ourselves. This is precisely what society expects from us and we comply. In fact, it rarely occurs to us not to fulfill these expectations.

In our jobs, we are expected to present an appearance of having virtually no personal lives and to strictly limit our expressions of feelings and opinions. This makes business go more smoothly, perhaps. But what does it do to the individual who must suppress parts of themselves?

In our relationships, the amount of masking we do is dependent on the nature of the relationship. With our more casual friendships, we disguise ourselves in much the same way as we do in our work life, to the end that we reveal very little of our true nature. We are pleasant to most everyone despite any unpleasantness that may be going on just beneath the surface. We also hide our joys and dreams, not revealing ourselves.

Within families, we hide how we feel from each other and, frequently, we hide what goes on in the family from the outside world. We never admit to having an aunt who drinks, or a father who is abusive or an uncle that the kids have to avoid. We hide the hurt another family member's words give us. And the place that should be our haven becomes another place of deception. With our children, we hide our fears and vulnerabilities, our humanity. With our mates, we will swallow disagreement until it chokes us to avoid conflict. In all of these cases, there are times when it is more prudent to keep quiet about a given situation.

I wonder, however, what it costs us as individuals if we feel we must frequently hide or even deny essential parts of ourselves. How long until who we really are disappears under a giant mound of expectations?

We can't ever suppress ourselves permanently. No matter how much we bow down to the god Conformity, late at night, when sleep eludes us, we inevitably meet our true selves and can no longer deny who or what we are. Every fear in our lives comes clamoring for attention and we can no longer deny the fears. Every hope that seems impractical or imprudent, whispers that we should try. Every desire we believe we shouldn't have stirs up anew with longing. And the specter of who we appear to be crashes into who we truly are and the winner of that battle will determine how we live through the next day.

Most of us will automatically don our acceptable masks again in the morning. But what have we done to ourselves when we do? What happens to the self we've denied?


Shell said...

I am afraid if we deny who we really are we loose ourselves.

Lorien said...

HOLY COW! For years and I mean YEARS I had to deny who I was for the sake of getting along with the humorless #$%s at work! Being severanced last year was the best thing that happened to me--I found my smile again!

Jerry Thomas said...

I recall from my reading (long ago) of Plato's Republic that there was a story of a man who found a ring that would render him invisible, and the question was how should you behave when no one can see you. I'm sure further study would yield more detail, but the point is, I think the source of your quotation, or at least some version of it, goes back at least that far. Can't say.

At my job I'm a more boring version of myself. So boring that my personality warps space.

MarthaPam said...

0"And the place that should be our haven becomes another place of deception." Sometimes, the ultimate place of deception, and the hardest to forgive.

Well done!