Masks

I am opting out of Halloween this year. No one “Trick or Treats” in this neighborhood, so I have no reason to buy candy (and eat it all myself). I have had pumpkins on the doorstep for several weeks, but I am unlikely to carve them when there is no one to spook. When I was on campus I loved putting on my purple witch’s hat and giving treats to the children from the child care center. They were all pre-school and adorable, unlike the high school students I remember coming late at night, without costumes, expecting to fill their big pillowcases. Bah Halloween.

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But thinking about Halloween does make me think about the masks we wear. Not the party masks, but the ones we regularly hide behind. In the October 21, 2017 New York Times Sunday Review Sarah Hutto said “the real costumes are the ones we wear the other 364 days a year.”  

We all wear polite masks in society, feigning more interest than we have in a speaker, applauding more than we really think a performance deserves, or complimenting the chef on an overcooked meal. We do this out of kindness. And perhaps we wear suits and sensible shoes when we’d rather be in tees and jeans or sexy dresses. It's not a fundamental challenge to who we are, and luckily there are weekends.

But to what end do we hide our true selves? Usually because there is something we want that we don’t believe is attainable without dissembling. And we may get the job, the spouse, or the invitation, but ultimately at a cost to ourselves and others. We lie, and our lack of integrity harms everyone concerned.

One of the dictionary definitions of integrity, from the Latin integras or integrat, is “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” I take this to mean undivided from one’s core values. Ideally, we build core values through knowledge, introspection, a willingness to listen, and openness to change. Values that come from our families and communities may be sustained, modified or rejected as we grow. Values should not be rigid, but nor should they be subject to whim or the latest popular opinion. Integrity means knowing what you stand for and what you are willing to fight for.

You are probably already thinking about the dearth of integrity in public life these days. It is hard to know what our elected officials stand for when they say one thing and do another. I would rather deal with someone with whom I disagree, but whose commitment to their values I respect, than someone whose values appear to be for sale. A few brave politicians are now speaking up, even at the cost of their careers. They are unwilling to remain silent in the face of a lack of integrity. Theirs is true leadership.

Barbara Viniar