Saturday, January 30, 2016

Faces and Masks

My advice to young teachers when they start teaching is to imagine themselves as ‘actors’ - and imagine that they are playing the role of an effective teacher… perhaps based on a blend of favorite good teachers that they have seen in their own lives…they should attempt to emulate the actors voice, their timing and delivery.  I tell them that it is OK to feel like an imposter when you first start teaching – No one else in the room will think of them as an imposter.  And if they play their role well for a few days they will discover that they are soon speaking with their own voice and responding as themselves. 

This person creates and puts on a kind of invisible “mask”.  A mask in this sense is the self that we create to deal with a certain situation or with certain people.  It isn’t a physical mask – but the way we present ourselves, the words we choose to speak, our pattern of body language. 
The Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jung called this a “persona”. And he saw it as the social face the individual presents to the world—"a kind of mask designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual".

Many cultures include physical masks in ceremonies to make present certain spirits, gods, or states of mind.  Such masks can be a real aid in visualizations., and education.  How I loved Halloween when I could wear a mask and pretend to be someone else.

As I think about my typical day – I wake in the morning and have breakfast with my wife, Judy – We know each other so well that generally we don’t need special personas to interact - But there are times we choose to project a special tenderness or insistence with each other.  Then I drive to the classroom that I will visit that day and I put on a different ‘mask’ to deal with the office staff and then a different persona with my young teacher, and still a different persona if I am dealing with high school age students.  

I may visit different schools  I suppose that my demeanor changes if I am taking to a school principal, a custodian, if I stop for lunch in a taqueria, or a Chinese bakery, speaking with an Oakland Police officer, or a homeless guy… I have a different persona when I go to a baseball game, in church, and out hiking with friends.  This doesn't seem dishonest to me because I attempt to present personas that put the other person at ease, at which present myself in a positive light.  I don't think the goal is never to use different masks (personas)  - but to be conscious of how and why you are presenting yourself.

I have known people who get trapped in a persona –Let me engage in some stereotypes –(You can think of exceptions of each) – but we all know people that the labels fit  - maybe even see ourselves.  Have you met people who want the world to see them as any of these categories: tough guy, funny, intellectual, militant (fill in any political party), smart, cute, religious, techy, athletic, poetic, daring, anti-intellectual, the guy that wont take any ‘guff’ from anybody, the peacemaker, the adventurer….

 Once a person is trapped in a persona it can be difficult to expand their horizons… There are cowboy poets, and conservationist hunters; there are inner city kids that go on to make breakthroughs in medicine.  I think there are even regional personas – I suspect I would engage in different conversations with the people behind the counter of a coffee shops in San Francisco, in Omaha Nebraska, and in a little country cross road cafĂ© in Georgia. There are topics that would be inappropriate in the small towns of Northern Mississippi that might be quite welcome in the Bay Area.

Sometimes after a busy day, a good dinner… I feel relaxed and tired and I want to sit in my favorite chair and read a good book… but I have to go to a meeting – so tired and a little grumpy, I drag myself to the meeting – and ‘boing’ as I walk into the meeting my friendly, outgoing, verbal mask falls into place.  I listen, contribute, maybe tell a funny story, I act really engaged in the meeting.  Is that dishonest or wrong…? I don't think so – it makes me more productive and a better team player… than going in as a ‘rain cloud’ and sitting quietly through the meeting.  I like my collection of masks and I can be aware that I  them out and put them on more or less consciously. 

I do recall as a teen being in awkward situations where my older aunt (who required a certain persona) and my teen friends (a different mask) happened to be together… now I had a dilemma – which mask do I wear… that kind of situation can be very stressful!