The bank was quiet, yet filled with the activity of a Wednesday afternoon, shortly before closing time. Tellers accepted cheques and commercial takings, while customers obediently waited in line between the ropes. Men and women sat in glass cubicles, tapping at their keyboards and tilting screens to hopeful loan applicants. There was a sterility to it, but all the actors had a purpose. Just like the man who at this moment entered the bank. He wore a mask, desperate to conceal his true identity. In his right hand, he held a weapon. As the other people became aware of this, they elected to follow his instructions to lie down on the floor, or exit their offices and do the same. The other people were frightened. But so was the masked man. It all came down to this. He was convinced that he needed the money held behind the counter above all else. There was no turning back now.
While the concept of bank robbery itself seems a bit dated now, something we now see more often in a Hollywood film than in the nightly news, I think it’s worth looking at how this relates to our lives. Just who is the man in the mask and what does he mean for us? What about the other people, entering the bank with simple aims, yet suddenly caught up in a terrifying situation? Of course, I don’t tell this story to actually talk about banks and bank robbers. It’s all about the mask and the motives that are concealed behind it. Most of us wear a kind of figurative mask, at least some of the time. It’s our way of making sure that people don’t see the person hiding behind it.
So why are we so afraid of letting people see the true person behind the mask? Often it’s because of the little shadows that lurk in all of us. The things we don’t tell anybody, no matter how much we share with them, maybe because we think these things are a little too weird for anyone else. But even more, I think it’s because of some part of us that we aren’t at peace with. Some part of us that we wish was better. And by covering it up and behaving in a way that the social situation dictates, we are able to avoid confronting this part of our character. On the one hand, this is an amazing skill that we have – being able to adapt our personality to different circumstances that confront us. On the other hand, just like the man in the bank, the mask just hides the uncertainty and prevents us from experiencing growth.
Like I have mentioned previously, vulnerability and sharing are places of growth. Certainly we don’t need to go around being vulnerable and sharing our deepest and darkest with strangers, but there is freedom to be found in simply letting our true selves show. Wearing the mask of the personality that we think others want to see doesn’t do us justice, or them for that matter. But I’m sure you’re wondering by now, what on earth has this got to do with the bank robber? Well, the most obvious thing is that he was masked. But there was a reason that he chose to conceal his true identity from everyone. This reason, of course, was his motive. He wanted to get something that wasn’t rightfully his, so he chose to cover up who he really was.
When we wear one of these figurative masks, we often have a reason for doing so. Perhaps we are trying to get a job, so we present an alternative persona at the interview. Maybe we’re on a first date and we really want to see the person again, so we hold some parts of us back. Or even out at a party and we don’t know anyone, so we use a mask to move into a conversation… So instead of showing our true selves, we show someone different, even if the differences are minimal. And by doing this, we are setting ourselves up to have to perpetuate a myth. Consider this: you get a job, based on the persona that you put up in the interview. You then need to continue to demonstrate these traits every day at work. Or on that first date, you make yourself out to be someone you’re not. And then you need to demonstrate these behaviours for however long the relationship continues. Aside from anything else, this sounds exhausting. The reality is that in wearing a mask, we’re underestimating ourselves. And we’re underestimating the capacity of others to love us for who we really are.
Just like the bank robber, we all sometimes feel as though we need to put on a mask to get what we really want. I don’t wear masks as much as I perhaps once did. You see, if the thing we want requires us to be anything other than who we are, then is it really worth it? Is it worth sacrificing our own values, our own authenticity to get ahead? I figure that I’m worth much more than that. If I can’t be myself and get where I want to go, I’ll reconsider my destination. If I can’t be myself and keep the company of those I want to be with, then they’re not my people. Being true to yourself and the person you are is a much greater achievement than getting something not meant for you in the first place.