trio of three white, neutral masks on black background

'Tis the season for masks and haunts and shadows and hidden, frightening things. I LOVE this Halloween holiday, and every cheesy, spooky element of it. I may be forced into shake-my-head mode at stupidity like the "Sexy Ebola Nurse" costume idea (and other weirdly sexualized costumes. There are so many ways to be sexy and sexual and titillating and erotic, if that's the vibe you're going for...mixing that with weird cultural references is surely a misfire), but even the most slapdash attempt at getting in the spirit delights me.

latex mask Creature from the Black LagoonAs a kid, there was nothing I loved more than those cool latex masks. They were crazy expensive to me, and an indulgence that, if I truly wanted it, I had to save up my allowance. The fund started in August for me, and one year, the coup de grace, was a full-head Creature from the Black Lagoon true pride and joy. I wore it around the house, even while watching TV, for a week leading up to Trick or Treat night.

Masks are an interesting thing, aren't they? Theatrical tradition dating back to the early Greek performance origins reverently honored the taking on and putting aside of masks. Transformative, as enlightening sometimes as they can be obscuring, masks free the onstage performer to discover greater expression behind their barrier of safety, and thus permission to communicate openly.

In our day-to-day life, however, don't masks serve quite the opposite purpose? Don't we hide behind identities we create and perfect to avoid full expression? We have a work mask (probably different for co-workers, bosses, and those who report to us), a family mask (how different is your presence for your children and your parents?), a friends mask, a lover mask, quite another if we are called to the carpet by authorities in courts or cop cars, another when we post on social media, perhaps another if we are flirting or dating, one we think they want to see for job interviews, quite different if faced with conflict with a stranger on the street...

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter


Should the goal be to remove these masks? To strip away the artifice so each interaction is bare, open, vulnerable, and honest? To be truthful, probably not, at least not 100%. Going the Full Monty with our true beings may, indeed, be too much of a good thing in a world where we interact with others. Adopting a particular posture or demeanor in reaction and relation to situations is smart, evolved behavior...but I suspect there are plenty of instances where force of habit has taken over more than any true survival or coping mechanism. In these robotic reactionary situations, trying, even for a fleeting moment, vulnerability, might open up amazing possibilities.

We need not remove every mask in every situation--but it sure does seem less exhausting, in fact, more energizing, if we give ourselves a break and look for the opportunities we are currently missing to reconnect to authenticity. What is truly threatened if we remove the mask? Are we afraid "they" won't like us? Probably...but of course here's the thing we already know...if they don't like the real us, sans mask, why is their approval important at all?

“Don't you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?” ~Søren Kierkegaard

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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