Thursday, 5 January 2012

" Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."

We all wear masks at times, i suppose, at the very least we extend and reduce aspects of our personalities to fit various situations: conscientious at work, funny with our friends maybe, sexy for the online dating profile, caring with the know the kind of thing.

I have often pondered on these multiple personalities and wondered what is real and what is not. Interestingly enough the answer is only just now, as I write, clear. The work persona is as conscientious as a person is able to be because we want and need our jobs. The funny persona (if we have one) is as funny as we are able because who wants to be unfunny?

Our situation specific personas are real because they are limited by what is really there, who we really are. These personas are not exactly masks but more like caricatures.

All of this ran through my mind when the title quote (from Oscar Wilde) was drawn to my attention. Do these personas reflect a person's truth or do they function as a mask of sorts?

The quote says "Give him a mask..." does a mask have to be provided by a third party in order to reveal truth? Is it possible for an individual to create their own mask at all? What kind of masks are there? and
Is it true that we tell our truths more fully when we are masked?

I only have the most basic of ideas in possible answer to these questions and I would love for you to throw in your thoughts so please do that....

What I will say is that stage personas as adopted by actors or musicians sometimes reveal a more complete picture of the person than their everyday personality which is reserved and muted. The stage provides the mask of an adopted character maybe? which i would best express in an imaginary statement "I can be who I am because everyone thinks I am being somebody else"

Following the same example, the actor doesnt create their own mask, we might think they do, but in fact we confer it on them when we become audience and permit them to experiment with truth.

Alcohol tends to make people tell their truths but it couldnt be called a mask. Alcohol is more like an eraser that converts the caricature to a true to life image (the metaphor is falling apart but you get it, right?)

If we allow our religion, our prophets and our holy books to justify bigotry or a desires to repress others is that a mask? Do we use religion to tell the ugly truths we could not otherwise utter about ourselves?

Tell me what you think.


  1. This is a very serious topic for so early in the year.
    I think our biggest self-imposed mask is self censorship, for whatever reason, which is a form of dishonesty. Or perhaps those are so closely allied as to be one and the same. In those circumstances, much as I love Oscar Wilde I think the truth is obscured by the mask.
    Open to argument though.

  2. well, EC, i'm happy to have thought of something serious at any time of the year!
    is self censorship dishonesty, or just prudence? i guess that depends on just how complete the censorship is and what the motivation.

  3. Wonderfully written Kylie! I tend to think that our "masks" worn throughout our lives are a necessity of sorts that ease our way through life, rather than constantly beating ourselves silly.

    My oldest sister wore none. She was frank, brutally honest and quite honestly didn't care what anyone thought.

    Really, this was a wonderful post and worthy of pages of philosophical discussion. I may even expand on it with my own blog if you don't mind.
    Me? I tend to slip in and out of many personalities depending on the situation. I am who I am at work because I have to be. I have to use various communication styles with my team members and an entirely different one for MY boss.

    Of course there is an extreme and politicians are the masters and I hope I never go that far.

  4. thanks mike! high praise indeed :)
    i tend to believe that it's a good thing to morph a little in varying situations and i think it is possible to do that while still having integrity.

    i wonder about your sister: did she hurt anybody unintentionally? would that have bothered her? did telling her version of the truth at all times make her own path rougher than it needed to be?
    i take my hat off to anyone who can live like that but i think it is brutal at times

  5. John's Gospel 8:32.
    The truth will set you free.
    This statement even out of context with Jesus of Nazareth's conversation with the Pharisees does make sense in a lot of cases. How often do we hear families of a murdered relative say we now have closure when the perpetrator is identified. Or we learn what is causing us toothache.

    We all have responses to situations and/or circumstances that are multiple and can hide or reveal our motives and personality.
    It also can "fingerprint" our morality, immorality or amorality.
    Narcissism is a major player here too.
    Actors .. mask wearers? Probably.
    Musicians ... Depends what sort of muso. It's hard to wear masks as an orchestral violinist or playing 2nd trumpet. Wilde is probably 98% correct.

  6. ah! dad!
    yes, i believe that the truth is an agent for freedom but that it must be administered with care and wisdom.

    as for our morality/ immorality/ amorality i had that in mind when i was saying that our multiple personas reflect what is actually there. we can play a characteristic up or down but we cannot manufacture it and i doubt we can hide it from the astute observer.

    as for the musos, you come at it from the opposite direction to me but with the same result.
    the spiritual/emotional depth of the musician can be revealed by the music which means that a protective mask is dropped OR the instrument acts as the mask which allows truth to be told, yes?

  7. Hi Kylie- how funny I was talking about masks too. Not with the same philosophical intellect as you though!

    I think we do tell the truth when we are masked because we are less inhibited; this is true.

  8. Kylie your ideas and principles outlined in this post has been astute and incisive.It has attracted some fine contributions. So bouquets to all of you.
    Musos ... what you say is true about them. Sometimes though the musician ie instrumentalist is given "a voice" via their instrument where their verbal articulation : language skills are poor. What is an opera singer? actor/actress and musician I suppose. The muso must play an instrument where they produce the note. EC's theory obscures truth is interesting. I must stop raving.
    Best to all of you

  9. dad! rave on!

    cinnamon! happy new year!!!! long time no see and all that :) i must drop over for a peek!

  10. Kylie it took a long time but what you see is what you get. I do not change from personality a to b for a situation. I am one. I tried that mask and image business and found that I couldn't pull it off so I simply developed into me.

    Nope it doesn't fly with me either, if you have to hide your face so i can't see you then i simply do not need to know you. I am not able to trust in someone who treats white people one way, black people another, educated likw this and illiterate like that. Everyone deserves to see the naked (figuratively) person that they are spending their time with.

  11. I don't believe in masks, rather layers of one whole personality. We are also brought up to act accordingly to the situation at hand, or the social environment we find ourselves in. I agree wholeheartedly with the last comment of not wanting to know someone who feels the need to "HIDE" behind a so-called mask..

    "Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth " = An act of cowardice, plain and simple.

  12. I don't believe people who say they don't wear a 'mask' we all do to some extent.I like to think I'm a 'heart on sleeve' person but if I was brutally honest at work, I'd probably lose my job and I need it. When it comes to friends...different story. If I like you, I'm straight up. If I don't, I just lose touch. I have only met one completely honest, non mask wearing person in my life and he's lonely because of it. As for Truth, there is no truth. Just different truths to different people.

  13. It seems that everyone wears a persona these days. I suppose it's just as well. Most people are uglier than their persona. Except for the droopy pants crowd. There's nothing uglier than that.

  14. "I can be who I am because everyone thinks I am being somebody else" Interesting idea. I shall ponder that for a while.

  15. I don't know if I'd call myself a mask-wearer. Maybe in the sense of hiding. But not in the sense of putting on a different self all the time.

    I do know my co-workers don't trust me as much as they (maybe?) would because I don't reveal all (or hardly any) details of my personal life to them. It bothers them, I think.

  16. No, I don't think that idea's right. I think other people do assume you are being yourself unless something suggests otherwise. People basically assume sincerity rather than pretence.

  17. Do you read Bruce M Hood's blog? He's an author whose second book is about these questions. I'll find the link for you...

  18. Here it is

    The book is called The Self Illusion. If you've got a kindle you can download a free excerpt

  19. i am the only one here who has all the truth<<>all truth was reveald to the prophet joseph smith and john you are a funny man

  20. Yeah, it's rather sad that we are said to create god in our own image because if you look at the world's gods, they act about like many of us do when we achieve tremendous political power--that is, when we really are above the reach of the law because we ARE the law.

    "Alcohol tends to make people tell their truths but it couldnt be called a mask."

    "Loosens the tongue," as it were. I don't know, Kylie. I guess if they're superficial people this might be true, but I don't think booze goes very deep. I know I've never heard anybody say anything profound when they were loaded. Marijuana sometimes inspires some interesting ideas, but other times they're rather mundane, and I can't necessarily tell which is which until later.

    Say, would a little gift be appropriate for you? If it would, you need to send me your address, and tell me if large trucks are able to get near your door.

  21. snow,
    when i gave you my address i said to leave the steaming organic fertiliser on the driveway!


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