Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. – Oscar Wilde
The oft-quoted remark above is used frequently in reference to the power of the anonymity of the Internet. At least, its anonymity before every fucking government on Earth started spying on the Internet on “behalf” of its citizens. Yes, I’m looking at YOU, faceless Spy Agency Bureaucrat!
The well-proven theory goes: If you put some people behind the shield of several thousand miles of cables, a computer screen and a message board, inevitably you will see them turn into abusive assholes, trolls, and all-around jerks. These same people, in a face to face discussion, might get heated and passionate, but they’d never sling the kind of shit to your face that they would online. In fact, these internet trolls wear their computer screens like Wilde’s masks, allowing people to be their true selves: complete assholes.
Myself, in spite of my high opinion of Oscar Wilde, think that he was wrong. I have never seen masks as a way of revealing one’s self, but as a way of concealing it. In my own case, I feel a little like The Killer from the Doors Song, “The End”: every morning I put on a Face that I wear throughout the day. It’s not my face; it’s the face of Steve the Happy, Middle-Aged Mail-Room Clerk.
Every day I pick up my packages and mail, sort and organize everything, then deliver it floor by floor, making rounds, always with a smile, always talking and laughing with someone, somewhere. Everyone’s happy to see my bright, cheerful, smiling face.
But that bright, cheerful smiling face is just a mask…and it is not one with which I will ever tell you the truth.
The truth is, some of the people I deliver mail to every day I don’t like. Some of them I dislike utterly. Most of them I feel a remote attachment to…the same way I felt about the weed guy I had for four years before he vanished. I could chat with him, chill a bit, but when suddenly his phone numbers stopped picking up and I couldn’t find him at any of the usual hangouts, I shrugged, wrote him off, and started looking for another weed guy. I still don’t know if he up and quit, if he got killed or if he’s doing time. It doesn’t affect me in any kind of serious way, and so I can’t spare the time to care.
There are very few people in my life that I genuinely care about; my children, my friends, my surviving relatives…but the truth is, the rest of the world seems populated by hollow shells, walking around, whose lives only seem real to me for the brief moments we intersect. Being on a bus or Metro or walking down a crowded sidewalk is like being surrounded by mannequins.
I think the only time I don’t need to wear a mask of any kind is when I’m with my kids; they bring out the best in me, they make me into the best me I can be.
But when my coworkers are chatting with me about what’s happening in their lives, I’m always careful to pay attention, offer comments where appropriate, and laugh when expected to. But it’s all a mask. The minute I’m no longer facing them, the smile drops away, my face resumes its default, dour expression, and I continue on my way.
Sometimes the mask feels like my own skin…sometimes it doesn’t feel like a mask. Other times, it is ill-fitting and slips.
Most of the time, people aren’t even aware I’m wearing one. Sometimes, neither am I.