Hidden Behind Your Mask by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley
NS: It’s been difficult in most of 2020 to have a conversation that didn’t involve the word “mask”. Why has the wearing of a mask become such a controversial subject? In the pandemic, wearing a mask surely can’t do any harm? And whatever level of protection it gives (to the wearer and/or those around them) must be good, mustn’t it? So why do some people get so het up about wearing a mask – or seeing other people wearing a mask?
RJR: I have found it an interesting experience – going out on the occasions that I have over the past few months. I have chosen to wear a mask, which I put on as I leave my front door, if I am going to walk around the St Albans local shops and market, It is easier than taking it on and off, and I just feel safer. Whether it is in my mind or not, it doesn’t really matter. What I have found extraordinary is some people’s reaction to it. I have had my way blocked purposefully by activist non-maskers and I have received evil looks from a shop assistant too. What is this all about?
NS: It may be about a lot of things. At the beginning of the pandemic, some people – me included – found it a bit embarrassing putting on a mask. I soon got over that – but I think some people still don’t want to do it because they feel a bit silly. So maybe they feel slightly threatened by people who are willing to do what they have difficulty with. On top of this, they may be projecting their own idea of what someone is like behind the mask – and that’s someone they don’t like! Masks magnify the possibilities for projection, don’t they?
RJR: I definitely what to talk about projection. But can you help me understand why you feel it looks silly? That has actually never crossed my mind!
NS: I don’t think it looks silly… But I think there was initially a certain amount of “English” embarrassment about wearing a mask… for example, if you were the only one wearing one in a shop full of people who weren’t. That was a situation I found myself in, early on in the pandemic. But now maybe things have turned around to such an extent that it is perhaps embarrassing to be the only one in the shop NOT wearing a mask. And perhaps that is why some of this minority of maskless people have started to become a bit aggressive?
RJR: So what other reasons do you think people have for becoming more aggressive and divisive? What is going on behind the proverbial mask?
NS: I think if the government were to suggest that everyone wore light-coloured clothing when they went out at night, so that they would be more easily seen by drivers and motorcyclists, there would almost immediately be protests about the infringement of liberty, and groups of people deliberately wearing all-black clothing. We are ready to become divisive at the drop of a hat – or a mask. I think your question raises so many issues. Are we all wearing a “mask” much of the time? Even when we don’t wear a mask, are our faces actually masks? And when we do wear a mask, are we able to be different in some way? Can we go into all of this?
RJR: It is such an interesting subject. I feel I am very transparent as a person and very easy to read. I show my emotions readily, and I don’t feel I hide. But when I walk in the streets, I am very happy to be behind dark glasses and a collection of hats and scarves depending on the season. Wearing a mask has come easily to me. I am happy being in my own bubble when out on the streets. But of course that is how I feel inside myself. People who do not know me, will see me as something altogether different – and, quite possibly, different from them. They will see their own projections, like we all do. There is no reality, only perception…
NS: So, to you, you are the same whether you are masked or not. But to someone else you could be different when you are masked because that is their perception. I understand that. But I suppose one could ask: does wearing a mask make some of us behave differently? Masked balls or the Venice carnival masks are renowned for allowing people to be “other” than themselves. I’m not suggesting that a surgical mask does the same to our behaviour – but it does provide a certain amount of anonymity. That’s why Batman and the Lone Ranger and V (in the movie V For Vendetta) wear masks. It hides their identity – plus it allows them to be “someone else”. What do you think?
RJR: That will depend on the individual. That doesn’t happen to me personally. I am finding much more that people are projecting on to me right now. In saying that, I think I used to care more about what I looked like. Now, because I look pretty awful in a mask, I have just let go of looking by any means attractive at all. I just feel invisible. But I am OK with that actually. I am feeling much more enlightened, and that is far more important to me as I get older.
NS: So can wearing a mask actually help us to feel invisible? To not worry so much about what we look like? And to be more inward-looking in a good way?
RJR: I think it is great to let go of what we look like. It is so superficial, isn’t it? Maybe these times put things into perspective? I wear one because it makes me feel safer on the streets here in St Albans where there are lots of people, and many of them talking loudly into their phones, and not socially distancing. When I was out in the wilds of Cornwall, like I was in the summer, with few people and lots of clean air to breathe, where rates were low and the sun was shining, I felt differently. Looking inwardly in winter is always a good thing, no? It’s when insights come… And there is so much to learn from these times!
NS: I agree with that. It’s worth remembering that “Christmas” was originally a festival of the winter solstice – and an important element of that was the celebration of the birth of the sun. It was literally the beginning of enlightenment… Might that resonate with what is happening to us now…?
RJR: And this particular solstice is believed to mark the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. So very much the start of something new! Shall we end on that positive note?
NS: Yes. We need a happy new year!