Friday, August 26, 2011

The Masked Man

Six years ago I was in school studying to become a history teacher.  Being able to help kids and give them someone to look up to seemed like something I wanted to spend my life doing.  As I began to get deeper into my education and the investment became larger I thought it might be a good idea to try working with some teenagers to see if I actually liked it before I earned a degree and got stuck working with them for the rest of my life!   I decided I was going to get a job at a boy’s ranch for teenage boys who had been in a lot of legal trouble.  These youth had been court ordered into treatment due to accumulating charges on their record.  I thought this would be a good way to find out if I even liked teenagers.  My rational was that if I could work with a house full of really "bad kids" then I would have no problem dealing with a regular classroom.

As I drove down to the ranch for my first day of work I remember a sense of panic came over me “what the hell am I doing?” I thought to myself, “I just got a job working with a house full of the very kids I despised and hated all growing up.  These are the kids who bullied me all through school!”  I felt sick to my stomach.  As I worked my first shift the feeling didn’t go away as I learned about some of the activities that got these boys to the place they were.  They were there for assaults, drug use, burglaries, car thefts, drug dealing, gang fights, the list could go on and on.   The most minor of these kid’s offenses made my worst deed look like stroll in the park.  I was a little nervous, not knowing what I had just gotten myself into.   

As time went on I got to know these kids and the more I got to know them and talk to them their tough exterior began to fade and I saw who they really were, scared little boys wearing masks to conceal their fear and shame.  I began to see that these kids who I always saw as so different from me were actually very much like me.  I learned that many of these boys joined gangs for protection because kids at school bullied them.  I learned that many of them ran from the problems at home by turning to drugs or finding a new family within the gang.  All of their motives to be the “tough guy” were based in fear and insecurity.  These kids, just like me had been defeated and had had their sense of masculinity, their core, damaged.  We just dealt with it in different ways.  I withdrew from men and they found a way to hide their insecurities behind a mask of toughness. 

The boys discussed above are just one example of those who wear masks.  We see men wearing a variety of disguises on a daily basis.  The macho football player who seems to be nothing without the game, the arrogant, seemingly power hungry police officer who pulled you over, your boss who never gives a word of praise but throws out the criticism constantly, The teacher who can’t admit he’s wrong, The father who beats his children, The guy who ran you off the road, or the group of guys getting wasted before the school dance.  These are all examples of masks.  These individuals are too afraid of being “found out.”  Found out that they actually are not the tough guys, found out that they really are just as scared and insecure as the band geek they just beat up.  They are so afraid of exposure that they live their lives in constant performance. Pretty exhausting! 

So what makes them afraid?  At some point in their lives these men had their masculinity severely damaged.  This damage could come from any place, a father who tells his son to man up and not be such a sissy, a bully who shoves a kid’s head in a toilet, a teacher who makes a kid feel dumb in front of the class.   Any one of a million different things can cause a young boy to question his worth as a man and make him feel inferior.  For the Masked individual they compensate for this shame by hiding behind a façade of the tough guy, the ladies man, the super star, the criminal, or the bad ass.  If they can keep this going, nobody will ever know the “shameful” truth, that they actually do care and have feelings and get hurt and have disappointments.  They don’t want anyone to know that they are insecure and unsure about their abilities.  They can’t bear to accept that they are vulnerable.

We all wear masks at one time or another. We have masks we wear around certain people or in certain situations.  Take some time and identify your own masks and take a leap of courage and take it off.  See what happens.

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