No, I am not referring to COVID protective masks. This type of mask-wearing is something we have been doing almost all our lives and is one of the reasons I so enjoy being with little people. I am referring to the masks we don to protect ourselves from emotional consequences, not medical ones. I read a provocative missive recently about the concept of genuineness. In it, the writer questioned if we can ever really be completely genuine. He went on to discuss the metaphorical wearing of masks to prove his point. He noted that we could not be our most genuine selves if we were all wearing masks.
My immediate response was one of indignation. “Of course,” I thought to myself, “I strive to be genuine and authentically present in all my relationships, business dealings, writing, even with the cashier at my local grocery.” Being genuine to me means being honest, sincere, and authentic in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s about being true to yourself and others without pretending to be someone you’re not or hiding your true feelings. But all these factors can change or be altered in a minute. Being genuine can be challenging. Many factors can make it difficult to be authentic, such as societal pressure to conform, fear of rejection or judgment, or past experiences that have led to a lack of trust or authenticity.
But with self-awareness, honesty, and practice, anyone can learn to be more genuine in their interactions with others. It may require vulnerability and taking risks, but ultimately being genuine can lead to deeper and more meaningful connections with others.
It’s important to remember that being genuine does not mean being perfect or having all the answers. It’s about being open, honest, and willing to learn and grow, and being genuine means putting in the effort and prioritizing authenticity in relationships and interactions.
We all wear different masks for self-protection; in some situations, masks are socially appropriate to guard against perceived or real threats. To me, wearing a mask presents a persona or facade to the world that is not our most authentic selves but are decisions consciously or subconsciously used to protect oneself from being vulnerable or judged or to conform to societal expectations or roles.
It’s important to note that wearing masks is not necessarily negative and doesn’t mean someone is intentionally deceptive or insincere. In some situations, such as in a professional setting, it may be necessary to present a certain image or behavior different from one’s personal life.
However, wearing masks can also be a barrier to authentic connections and relationships with others. It can be challenging to form genuine relationships if we are not being true to ourselves and presenting a false persona.
Ultimately, we are self-aware and make a conscious decision to protect ourselves and decide when and where it’s appropriate to wear a mask. In that case, we can strive for authenticity and honesty in our interactions with those with whom we want to be most genuinely connected.
Today we are bombarded with things we ‘should’ be doing. We should eat right, sleep eight hours, watch our weight or even be very slim, exercise, be kind, open and philanthropic, politically astute, have a great meaningful job that pays lots of money, have a big house with a well-kept lawn, environmentally friendly, married at a certain age with children who are also all the above, and BE GENUINE. The list goes on so far that I am tired of typing it all. You get the point, I hope! We cannot be all these things, do all the ‘right’ things, or be kind, good, and genuine to everyone or even ourselves all the time.
A significant complicating factor in this equation is that we are constantly in flux. As we move through the stages of our life, priorities alter, values are clarified, and we CHANGE. How can we present a genuine face to the world when we might not be completely sure who we are? All social media, movies, continued education, and world events influence us. These influences change us, not to mention personal history, hormones, fluctuating relationships, sleep patterns, etc.
Multiple life influences can cause us to change, some of which include:
- Personal experiences: Experiencing something new or different can often lead to a change in perspective or behavior. For example, traveling to a new place or trying a new hobby can broaden our horizons and change our outlook on life.
- Relationships: Our relationships with others can significantly impact our lives and cause us to change. Meeting new people or experiencing a breakup can lead to personal growth and self-discovery.
- Major life events: Major life events such as getting married, having a child, or experiencing a loss can cause us to re-evaluate our priorities and change our lives.
- Cultural or societal changes: Changes in society or culture can also have an impact on our lives and influence our behavior. For example, changes in technology or political changes can alter our beliefs and values.
- Education: Education can open up new opportunities and perspectives, challenge our beliefs and ideas, and lead to personal growth and change.
- Health issues: Dealing with health issues can be a life-changing experience and lead to lifestyle changes, habits, and priorities.
Overall, many factors can influence us to change throughout our lives, and it’s important to embrace these changes as opportunities for personal growth and development – again, only being self-aware can inform us.
These ideas were controversial in a world that hammers us with the need to lead authentically. It worked if the intent was to offer a different viewpoint because I felt agitated. I was pushed off balance. So, I did what I do when in this state. I went outside for a walk to let these ideas run around in my mind, consider my reaction and feelings, then rinse and repeat until I figured it out.
Lucky for me that when I have this feeling of incongruence, instability, or dissonance, I honor it (even as I dislike it) because:
- Know I am about to either learn something new.
- Validate in a more meaningful way the things I value or
- shift my thinking and challenge my perceived reality.
I am not a know-it-all, but when the things I think I know and the decisions I have made for myself are significantly challenged, I listen and take notes. Then I spend days talking to trusted people about the shift. This one was so unsettling that I was relieved when a friend called, and I discussed this with her (Hurrah for open-minded girlfriends who enjoy talking about deeper relational concepts). It isn’t meaningful to me if it doesn’t cause any dissonance.
I recall some thirty years ago when I became fascinated with the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator and not only took it myself but also enticed anyone around to subject to the assessment. A few months later, a friend was given this instrument at an advanced military school (yeah, for this forward-thinking, I thought), but his results were significantly different. We deduced that he behaved differently in one environment (competitive) than in another (safe home). We laughed about this, but once examined already knew it to be true. Being aware of your behavior and deciding how much you reveal of your authentic self is healthy. I am not suggesting you examine each interaction, but in the relationships that matter the most, I recommend you look deeper and become or remain more self-aware. Self-awareness is particularly important in the most important relationship in your life – the one you have with yourself.