“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” – Philip K. Dick
Whether we like it. Whether we agree. Whether we care. It is true. Each and every moment of our lives is spent projecting an image. Sociologists call it our mask. It’s what the outside sees.
My sociology classes taught me about masks. Before, I referred to it as being fake. Then I realized that my humanities classes referred to it as discourse community, ie. what you tell your grandmother what you did last weekend is quite different from what you tell your best friend. Click! It made sense. Essentially, we act a certain way with certain people. If you will bear with the terminology, each discourse community requires a unique mask. Interdisciplinary indeed.
But what does it really mean? Lately, it has prompted me to think about my role as a foreigner. My existence here in Japan is easy to see, especially since I live in an area that boasts foreigners at fewer than 1% of the population. I realized quickly that my actions would be noticed. Not only that, but traveling abroad carries a certain responsibility with it. The traveler represents more than themselves, they represent the nation, the language, the culture, family, and so on. It’s not so different than normal albeit a bit more acute. After all, employers expect their employees to represent their company well. Right?
A long time ago my mother had a saying about me. It was catchy and made sense, as most of her sayings did. “You can’t conform a nonconformist,” she would say to me. Looking back, it appeared as though I was bucking the system every step of the way. The funny thing was that I never thought I was like that. So often we are blinded by our own shining light. I think about that person now. I don’t feel any different. My basic ideals are still the same.
But I am not the same person.
Then, I was rude and uncouth. Looking back, I didn’t know who I was. I had no identity. But time has taught me a few things about myself and my place in this strange but wonderful world.
The masks we wear are an important aspect of our lives. At the beginning, our masks are distinct, separate entities. But as we live and learn, they begin to overlap. Our inside mask absorbs a piece of our outside mask absorbs a piece of our work mask absorbs, absorbs, absorbs, in an ongoing process that defines our identity. Ten to fifteen years ago I would have thought this was being fake, and I guess in a way it is. But accepting these masks and their relationships to each other brings about a certain authenticity that people appreciate.
Who I was, who I am, what I was, and what I am each add a small piece to the elaborate puzzle that is my identity. I will try my best to project my best mask under all conditions by trying to be a good, authentic person.
Because we are all ambassadors.