Thursday, April 14, 2011

Masks, Rattlesnakes, and Warm Feet

It is not an easy thing to take a stand, and I understand why so many of us choose not to do it. Poking holes in carefully constructed facades sends people into frenzies of defensiveness, and the more important the facade is to maintain, the bigger the reaction to the hole poking.

What we present to the world is rarely completely congruent with our insides. Indeed, one of the tasks of development is to develop insight and self-awareness that helps us becomes congruent and comfortable in our own skins.

But some prefer an imaginary self to the real self, and so create an external persona that is not congruent with who and what the person really is. Why? I am not sure there is one answer but I wonder if perhaps it is easier to do some construction of a mask than to start the arduous task of reflection, self-awareness, and change.

I really do have a great imagination, but when it comes to people I just like the real thing. It is what I like about grief work -- crisis strips us all down to "real" and real people are my most favorite people.

Recently I caught some students who had plagiarized on papers in my class. One submitted a paper that was completely cut/pasted from a couple of websites! I met with the students and got versions of, "I didn't know that was wrong" -- sigh. But one -- the worst one -- came in and looked at me with tears in her eyes and said that yes, she had done it and she was sorry -- I wanted to hug her.

It takes courage to look your professor in the eye and just own up to what you did, knowing full well that such conduct can get one dismissed from a university. But that student showed more courage than many of us possess, and I respect and admire that kind of person -- it is a funny thing to say about someone who plagiarized a paper, but that young woman has integrity.

We all make unfortunate choices because we are human. It is not the mistakes we make that define our character -- it is how we handle our mistakes. Unfortunately, when our carefully constructed facade does not allow anyone to see our humanity and imperfections, we lose the opportunity to show courage and grace when we make the inevitable unfortunate choices.

And like the small boy in the story, sometimes we are presented with the chance to note that the king is actually not wearing any clothes -- and another opportunity is presented. Do we say something or follow the crowd and pretend that all is well? There is no right or easy answer that fits in all situations, but what matters is that we consciously make a choice.

If we decide to say something that reveals our awareness that the facade is just that, we have to be prepared for a defensive attack. The carefully constructed external persona is there for a reason, and it usually covers up a big, yucky mess that a person is trying desperately to keep hidden. Poking holes in the facade results in a rush of toxic waste, and I assure you -- it is not pleasant. But it is confirmation that one was correct -- that yes, it is a facade.

Beware of people who are not real, who do not strive for congruence between their inside self and their outside self. These are dangerous people, scary people because their very identity requires that their masks remain firmly in place and that we all pretend to think the masks are who they really are. When one dares to notice the inevitable leakage from inside or sees through the mask, expect fury and attack, and just know that this is more evidence that yes, you are indeed dealing with a very unfortunate person who is not as she appears.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be bullied into silence. Yes, sometimes the price of speaking out is painful but the price of pretending can be even steeper. Just be careful out there -- there are rattlesnakes hiding behind what appears to be a "perfect" person and you know this is true when they strike.

I have the image of the mom with a long hoe taking care of the rattlesnake -- was that you who shared that, Barb? It is a wonderful lesson -- keep your distance but don't be afraid to take care of the rattlesnake...

But most people are not hiding an inner snake and/or toxic waste dump -- most people are good and decent and doing their best. In the midst of my dark cloud of disillusionment and unfortunate events/luck, I went to work yesterday and found a package in my mail slot. I took it up to my office and opened it and what did I find?

Seriously -- this made my whole day!!!! My whole week!!!! These are socks that Kris from Massachusetts knitted for me from yarn made from her three berners: Nala, Moose, and Meg. She sent them -- with a wonderful card -- even though we have never met.

The idea that she rested her mind on me -- someone she knows only through this Blog -- and made/sent me such a wonderful and personal gift -- well, it is more touching than I can say. And it reminds me that acts of kindness are critical -- essential even -- in our lives. How did she know how much I needed the gift of support?

Today I will work hard to banish the nastiness of rattlesnake strikes, and instead rest my mind on a pair of socks and all that they mean. And I invite each of us to do the same -- and even more -- let's all extend support/kindness in some way to someone else who isn't expecting it. I speak from experience -- these acts of kindness and support mean so much.

Thank you, Kris -- I needed those socks more than you can know...


  1. I am crying. For many, many reasons. Probably your best post to date...xoxoxo

  2. I have sock envy! Those are so cool!!! I knit so I know they are a lot of work-can't imagine how much work it is to clean all the fur and spin the yarn. I'm sure those will be very lucky socks!!
    Yes my mom lives in Arizona and chases rattlesnakes-but with a broom because she can't bear to hurt them...She thinks they want to do the right thing which is get out of her yard so she is helping them on their way. Gee reminds me of someone else...

  3. What a wonderful gift, and how wonderful the thought and care (and time) to create it. Surely those are talismanic socks, wrapping you in a protective aura as well as keeping your tootsies toasty.
    On a practical note (since I'm also a spinner and knitter) will Kris let me/us know if she blended the fur at the heel and toe with anything for a bit more resilience?

  4. Thank you Mary-Ann for the kind words. Spinning and knitting with "berner-fur" just makes me happy! It still amazes me that I can create something with fur that most people throw away. What fun!

    On the technical side of making socks, I did not add any other fiber to the fur or reinforce the heel or toe. I have discovered the "afterthought heel" which I used and have heard is much easier to replace if you get a hole.

    Enjoy! :)

  5. I have seen masks fall off these past few days from people I thought I knew, well, by heart. Now the task is to try to know and love this new and unexpected person. It has felt like a rattler strike, and I needed quite a large dose of antivenom to keep the poison from my heart.

    But I found a poem, "Kindness," which essentially says to truely understand and know kindness one has to lose everything. The painful path is the one to full appreciation and gratitude. I'm finding difficult.

    I hope your socks keep your feet as warm as your heart.