Is being different around different people a mask?

Dear Paul,

When I am around different people I act different. I switch my attitude around so it is similar to my friends. Is this considered putting on masks? Just wondering...



Dear Friend,

Since you wrote to me, I have been listening to a lot of people on our retreats - most of whom are your peers - and I think that the best answer that I can give you is that we should strive to be the same person no matter who we are with. Time and time again, I hear students on retreats say that the most mask-free people they know are the ones that are the same person no matter who they are with or what situation they are in. On the other hand, when describing people who are wearing masks and being fake, your peers frequently say things like, "this girl acts one way when it is just me and her, and then when I am with her around other people, she is a totally different person." So if we are not being the same person (and true to ourselves and others) in the presence of any group, we are wearing a mask. That is the short answer.

There is a longer answer, though - are you ready? Here it comes...

The honest truth is that every person has many different parts of his or her personality that make up the whole person. For example, there are times when I am excited and hyper and silly; at other times I like to be more quiet and reserved and prayerful. During neither of these times am I being fake; just another aspect of my personality is coming out. And sometimes I behave differently depending on the social situation that I am in. For example, I am a pretty casual guy; so I really do prefer wearing jeans and t-shirts whenever possible. However, at a funeral or wedding, I always wear a suit and tie. This is not wearing a mask; it is just being respectful and appropriate to the situation. And there are even groups of people that bring out (or enhance) certain parts of my personality. For example, when I am hanging out with my buddies after our men's prayer group, I can be loud and wild. But, when I am at home just chillin' with the wife and kids after a long day at work, I am much more reserved and quiet and laid back. I do not believe that in either of these settings I am being fake; rather, each group brings out different aspects or parts of my personality.

So I honestly do not believe that in any of these situations that I am wearing a mask or denying my personality or my preferences. Rather, I am just being socially appropriate, sensitive to the people that I am with or the situation that I am in, and emphasizing different facets of my complex personality. At other times I feel comfortable being loud around my family and reserved with my friends. I don't feel as though I must act a certain way to be accepted. They wouldn't be good friends if they didn't value all the different facets of my personality. Some people just bring out different facets better than others.

By contrast, if I (who am a pro-lifer) were with a group of people who are pro-abortion and if they asked me my opinion - it would totally be a mask for me to agree with them, just to avoid conflict. Or if I were in a group where people were talking trash about my friend Heather, and I just stood by and let them do that without defending her and telling them how cool she really is, that would be a mask, too. If someone I loved were to die, and a friend asked me how I was doing - and I acted like it didn't bother me and refused to open up about my feelings, that would be a mask. If you have a friend or friends who don't like the goofy, silly part of you - or any other facet of your personality - in other words, if they only like and accept you when you're one way, then they may not be good friends. If you feel you must act a certain way with a group or they won't like you, I'd say that's a situation where wearing a mask would be extremely tempting.

I share these examples with you to make an important distinction. There is a difference between muting your personality, thoughts, feelings, and emotions - which I believe is wearing a mask, and having different portions of your personality coming out in different situations, with different groups, and in different social situations - which is not wearing a mask.

Ultimately, though, only you can decide if you are wearing a mask. If you need further help figuring it out, I would encourage you to discuss it with people that you really trust and who know you well - close friends, family members, and God - because they can all help you figure this out, if you ask them for their honest opinion and help.

Please know that I am praying for you, hoping that my thoughts on this topic will help you to become the person that God has created you to be - more and more mask-free every day!

Peace,

Paul