Imagine a world where, instead of making our way through life wearing different masks (you know, the work mask, the at-home mask, the walking-in-the-street mask), we are physiologically unable to do anything but display our emotions on our faces, for all to see?

I commute into London every working day, along with hundreds of thousands of other people. I’m sure that I’m not alone in having horrible days every now and again. Life is not always brilliant! But what do we do? We get up, have a shower, do our hair, put on our work clothes, pick up our work bag and by the time we have performed all of these unthinking rituals, we have plastered on the ‘I’m OK’ face to take outside and show to the world.

The thing is, on those days when we feel absolutely broken inside, all we can see around us are people who appear to be having a much better time of it than we are. So, we’re automatically going to feel worse than we did already, since we’re comparing our ‘I’m a mess’ insides, with everyone else’s ‘I’m having a great day’ outsides!

But I wonder… If we had no option but to show our feelings on our faces, would that really be any better? I’m not so sure. There have been a number of times when I’ve felt utterly crushed because of things that have happened in my life. Would it really have been of any benefit to me, to be forced to share that with the world at large?

Believe it or not, sometimes it really does help to carry on ‘as if’ things are A-OK. If everyone knows that your life is really tough right now, you just won’t get the opportunity to carry on regardless and distract yourself from your troubles, even for a blessed few minutes or hours. Perhaps the more unscrupulous people in this world would take advantage if they could see you were feeling utterly terrible. A disturbing thought, but the human race hasn’t survived by being all nice and lovely, has it?

So in this ‘reveal all’ world, I imagine that we would become utterly overwhelmed by all the emotion laid out before us, even while just going about our daily lives. You could step outside your front door and walk past the man who has found out his wife has had an affair, the mother whose daughter has died suddenly, the woman who has been trying to conceive and now knows she is carrying twins, the guy who has just gone down on one knee to beg the hand of the love of his life… Truthfully, wouldn’t you want to shield your eyes from all of those feelings? Could you really cope with such a burden of high emotion, from only four passers-by?

We glide through life wearing masks. Often, we adopt a persona a bit like a protective shield. We keep ‘us’, inside. Although if you pay attention, the signs are probably there. I have been known to scrutinise as many faces as I can whilst out and about, to see what lies beneath the surface. In the UK at least, we are brilliant at avoiding eye-contact. Either we slide our gaze away as soon as possible, or we look up and off into the middle-distance. You don’t need to catch a person’s eye though, to see what’s going on, or at least be given some kind of clue. The muscles that twitch rapidly around the clenched jaw, the frown that deepens, the laughter lines radiating from the eyes, the smile hovering around the mouth – all of these hints and more are there for you, if you make time to notice them.

Those masks – they’re not so impenetrable after all. Perhaps we aren’t as successful at hiding our emotions as we think?

Enjoy the read, wherever you are…

6 thoughts on “Inside/Out

  1. I feel I adopt different personae throughout my working day. I wear one mask in the staff room and avoid personal conversation before teaching (probably because i am a little tense) but the minute I step foot into a classroom, I wear a different mask and am much more amiable. I watch out for the signs that will indicate who is tired, who is happy, who is having a bad day, going through a rough time or just dreamy. Depending on the signs, I will act differently and sometimes just not act at all since it feels it is the best course of action.
    Subtle signs give us away but our masks are indications of how far we are ready to let others share parts of the ‘inside’.

    1. I find it interesting that you are tense in the staffroom (with your colleagues!), but not in the classroom, once you have started teaching. Perhaps that’s the best indication that your place really is with your students and not dealing with all the administration that comes with the job…! I imagine that teaching is one role where you really do need to be able to watch out for the signs behind the masks.
      As for sharing what’s inside – sometimes that can be the hardest thing to do…

  2. You are obviously a master at noticing body language…twitches and such. In a society that avoids eye contact, it is necessary to understand the slightest twitch of a muscle in order to realize what is going on. It is the same, here, and being half Italian, gestures and such are a part of my natural world.

    We all have masks, even if we don’t want to admit it. It gets us through the day and the events occufring in our environment.

    1. Thank you, Lorri. As someone who likes to spend a lot of time in ‘observer’ mode, it does mean I notice the masks and the twitches!

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