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We all wear one of these every day, whether we want it or not

Back at the beginning of the year, I decided that I was going to assign a theme to each month of 2022, and that each month I was going to talk about things related to the theme I’ve chosen for that month.

Before I begin, I have a disclaimer I want to make about the word I chose for the month of February: I want to take it back to the meaning it had until two years ago. Because you see, the theme I chose for the month of February is “mask”.

Photo by Elif Dilara Bora on Unsplash

Naive as only I can be, I chose it because it reminds me of Carnival, the moment when people dress up and parade on the street. Just like Lorenza, the main character in “We Gotta Get Out”, I envy people who is able to come up with original costumes year in and year out, and of course it’s envy out of admiration.

On the other hand, it’s true that February is the month when, two years ago, Italy became aware that Covid could also be a threat for a Western country. I’m sure it’s a historical moment that we can’t just cancel and forget, but just for the sake of it, let’s travel back to ourselves in early 2020 and ask ourselves what comes into our mind when they think about the word mask.

Aside from the Carnival itself, the first thing that comes into my mind is someone using a mask to prevent other people from recognizing them. It’s something related to disguise and cheating, or a situation in general where someone doesn’t want to be spotted or caught. Someone who doesn’t want to be themselves or that has something to hide.

But then I thought that choosing which side we present to other people is something everyone of us does. If I’m just limiting this example to myself, I’m a computer programmer in my professional life and a writer/creator/storyteller for the rest of the day: if you go through my posts on social media and on my blog, well, you rarely see anything related to software engineering and programming. I chose to present myself to you as a storyteller, because I already have my colleagues who know me as a software developer.

I have nothing to hide on either side: every morning at 8.30 I put on my software engineer mask, and I keep it on until about 5.30 in the afternoon. Then I put on my creative mask and keep it on until the next day.

In a certain sense, my point of view about this matter is nothing new: Luigi Pirandello, a Sicilian writer who lived in the early twentieth century, said that each one of us wear an enormous number of masks during our life, depending on the circumstances around us. He’s slightly more pessimistic than me, because he said that we use so many masks for such a long time that we end up forgetting who we really are.

This concept is expressed in his novel “One, No One and One Hundred Thousands”, a book about a man who looks himself at the mirror and sees something different from what he expected to see. This discovery leads him to understand that he’s not unique and it will slowly lead him to foolishness. He ends up in a retirement home, but there he will find the true freedom.

As I said, I’m a bit more optimistic about this “mask” thing, because I’m aware of the fact that I’m not a monodimensional person (and I don’t want to be one), and that I can choose to put on a mask/hat/whatever other garment depending on the context. In a broader sense, I think a mask is anything that express the way we choose to present to other people, and I’d say that in general it’s a good thing. What makes a mask or a disguise bad is not the mask per se, it’s the reason why that specific part needs to be concealed.

What about you? Which masks are you wearing in your life? Are you ok with it or do you wish you could wear more/less/a different set of them? Don’t be shy, let me know in the comments.

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