The following is a conversation I had with Omid Saii, fourth-year philosophy major, on the topic of masks. It was prompted by the following poem, “Masks,” by American poet Shel Silverstein.
She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by—
And never knew.
Naser: So, what do you think? Do you think people wear masks?
Omid: Yeah, absolutely. Some people I think wear masks so much that they forget that they’re wearing them, you know? Nobody is 100 percent authentic, very rarely people are completely comfortable with themselves and take in whatever they see to be true, and don’t lie or play games with themselves.
Naser: Yeah, I mean, most aren’t really comfortable enough to be completely real with everyone, all the time.
Omid: Because if you think about it, if you’re wearing a mask and someone else is wearing a mask, you can’t be sure that beneath that they have “blue skin” like you. For all you know, they could have “green skin” or something.
Naser: Right, I think it’s out of this need for acceptance that people sometimes sacrifice their true identity. It’s a pretty interesting idea, you know? That you’re not going to meet the people you want to meet if you’re constantly wearing a mask. You know, like John Lennon said, being true won’t get you a lot of friends, but it’ll get you the right ones. And really, I think society as a whole is at fault here, and the way kids are raised is at its root.
Omid: Yeah, I agree. I think these masks have emerged from cultural assets. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the person’s fault, because, you know, they’re trying to obey the general tradition and culture of what’s expected of them. But they need to learn that it’s okay to not always follow that. It’s stuff like that, that keeps us separate from each other.
Naser: Yeah, I mean, if you’re being fake if you’re acting, you don’t have a real connection with the other person. I mean, it’s pretty easy to point out the fake from the sincere. You can tell when someone genuinely cares about what you say.
Omid: Yeah, and I think here, it’s part of culture to be reserved and kind of have small talk with people. You know, it stems from this distrust. In American culture, strangers have this distrust of each other, until maybe they get to know each other better. They’re not willing to fully reveal themselves straightaway.
Naser: It has a contagious effect to it too, just as real does. Do you think there are any people who are constantly real?
Omid: You think everybody’s fake?
Naser: I don’t think everybody’s fake, but I think most people have different levels of real and fake to them.
Omid: I mean, you also have to keep in mind the definitions that you are creating.
Naser: Well, I think real is simply not allowing norms to influence how you interact with someone. It’s like absolute comfort with who you are and what you are doing. Not letting outside stuff phase you.
Omid: Sure, but there are some aspects of culture that anyone can agree with, I mean, it’s not a bad thing to thank somebody.
Naser: No, but that’s if you legitimately mean it. It’s not a bad thing. But, I think you should sincerely mean the “thank you” if you’re saying it. I think you should sincerely mean the goodbye. You shouldn’t just say it apathetically because it’s what you’re meant to do.
Naser: Do you think you’re completely real?
Omid: I’m closer to it than I was before. My mask isn’t 100 percent gone, but I’ve definitely destroyed a good part of it.
Naser: Yeah, I mean, I constantly preach being real, attempt to be and I’m definitely more than I ever was before. But, still there are times when it’s there, you know? The mask is a very comfortable place to be, that’s why it’s so attractive. It’s almost like a shield. And it’s become such acceptable part of our society. I’m not saying everyone wears a mask, but it isn’t seen as a crazy thing to do.
Omid: Well, not necessarily, people can see it. They’ll have feelings about you, like this guys not being legit.
Naser: But in general, conservative society is kind of accepting of it. I think the only way you can truly be real is if you don’t think about it.
Omid: No, I mean you can think. I mean, you said it, don’t be consumed by cultural standards.
Naser: Well, by everything. I mean, these masks, when they come on, it’s not that we choose to put them on, but they’re like a default mode. But, I think if you’re aware of it, it’s something you can learn to avoid.
Omid: You can step outside of it.
Naser: Yeah, I mean, it comes down to a strength of mind really. I mean, what is default? Default is falling into thought and thinking what you should do, rather than doing what you would do. So, I think you just got to be aware and recognize when that mask emerges, and realize that you don’t really need it. If you’re aware of your thoughts you can avoid that, and it just takes…
Omid: Self-awareness. Sounds like you’re on the right page.
Naser Dashti is a second-year political science and sociology double major. He can be reached at email@example.com.