The Weight of The Mask

The poem below, “We Wear The Mask”, by the great Paul Laurence Dunbar speaks to the life that millions of us live everyday.  When we wake up in the morning we throw on our Put On a Happy Face Mask to hide the frowns that our hearts and souls actually wear.  Many of the things we do aren’t for ourselves, but for other people.  So as not to disappoint those people or burn bridges we do everything we can to please others, even when it is in direct conflict with our own souls.

We make decisions based on what we think other people will think of us.  What is really disappointing is how we allow ourselves to be so burdened by what other people think that we continue to add layers to the ones that already exist.  But at some point the weight of the mask becomes so heavy that we can’t even keep our head up.  The mask breaks our back and is sometimes so thick that it is suffocating.

But why, why do we wear masks?  Is it too difficult to be ok with doing what we know is right for us?  Are we trying to protect and repair a broken heart?  Is it that our pride won’t let us admit when we’re wrong?  We try so hard to sculpt an image of ourself that we think others want to see that when we look in the mirror, we don’t even recognize the image standing before our eyes.  Why do we feel guilty when we say no to people?  Just because we don’t win, does it mean that all of the achievements we accomplished in the race are null and void?  And why is it not ok to stop?  People give great respect to athletes who retire early because of physical injury suffered ‘on the battlefield’.  But for those of us whose playing fields aren’t marked in yards, with free throw lanes or home plates, we’re given a badge of shame, rather than a celebratory parade when we want to leave the field because of injuries.  I can already hear someone saying, “quitters never win”.  But remember, some people suffer career ending,  life threatening or even fatal injuries while people from the sidelines are still pushing them to stay in the fight not knowing the full extent of ones injuries.

As a child, we want to make our parents proud and live up to their expectations, regardless of our age.  As a sibling, we want to be the positive example by which they follow.  As a significant other, we want to be all they need.  As a parent, we want to express to our children the love we have for them, which really is indescribable and unmeasurable.  As a friend, we want to be the safe haven they know is always available where they won’t be judged.  As a co-worker/employee/employer, we want to be viewed as the biggest team player/captain/manager.   And those are all of the smiley faced versions of those masks, of course there is a sad faced version for each one.

While we are holding up the masks that we think others want to see, underneath are the masks that more honestly reflect the person we are.  There is the Mask of Uncontrollable Tears that is trying to shed the pain and hurt that we are supposed to be ‘strong enough’ to not let bother us.  The Mask of the Flame Juggler worried about being able to pull everything off, safely and successfully.  The Mask of  Fear.  The Mask of Shame.  The Mask of Apathy, sometimes you just don’t give a damn and are ok with that.  The Mask of Insecurity, which is probably the biggest, ugliest and heaviest mask we wear.  We all want to be good enough, liked, loved and accepted, but are so busy seeking those things from other people, that we fail to realize that we can’t convincingly sell a product we really don’t believe in.

And no, all of the masks we wear aren’t weight bearing.  It’s just that so often we say, ‘if they really knew me’ or worse, think that who we are doesn’t deserve to be seen by the world.

So my challenge to you……wear your masks with pride.  Be comfortable with the masks that are yours and ok with throwing away the ones that really don’t belong to you.  You’ll find the load is lighter and much easier to carry.  Most importantly, wear the masks that reflect who you are so that the image staring back at you in the mirror is a familiar one.

We Wear The Mask – 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 overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O 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!


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brandi Williams, APR
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 17:52:58

    I love this. It is so true. I had so many examples and emotions when I read this … the thoughts alone were overwhelming. I appreciate the post … and you for challenging us to throw away those masks that are hindering us from being human.


  2. Lee Richardson
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 22:23:50

    A raw and powerful post. Your use of sports to highlight the contradiction of how we treat those who rid themselves of living a fallacy versus the respect we often give athletes who retire to escape injury was as vivid as it was clever. I truly enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Tarahna Lewis
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 20:08:37

    I was very moved by this and never quite looked at Dunbar’s poem in that perspective. It is one of my goals to shed a mask or two before this year ends. For some reason, I woke up today with some stored energy and my spirits were not as low as they have been lately. Let the transformation begin.


  4. Sahnia Oates
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 21:24:55

    when i read this…at 1 or 2 something in the morning, i really wasnt thinking as clearly as one should during the middle of the day. i let it rest and think on it for a moment before i truly responded. i have had masks on for years, and as i have grown older, more and more of them have fallen away.
    it seems as of the past couple of months, the heaviest one, as you so aptly stated, fell off. “The Mask of Insecurity, which is probably the biggest, ugliest and heaviest mask we wear. We all want to be good enough, liked, loved and accepted, but are so busy seeking those things from other people, that we fail to realize that we can’t convincingly sell a product we really don’t believe in.”
    with all that i have going on, i no longer have the need, the time or inclination to worry about other folks. and for me, i am ok with that. i know that that was one of the masks that you stated, but for me, im ok with that. and that is a huge deal for me.
    so i thank you for this post, and for challenging us to truly think about this. and maybe i will be able to knock down my masks one at a time faster than i normally would…we’ll see.


  5. Jason Guyton
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 01:44:52

    Good stuff!


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