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Behind the masks - are people really as they seem?


For as long as I can remember, I've hated masks. This could be because of watching Dr Who from a very early age. Masks and disguises counted for a lot in those early Dr Who episodes, as the BBC budget never stretched far and they needed to show the alien's differences. Usually, this difference was a threat, rather than a simple non-humanoid form. Behind the mask, or behind the differently-shaped face, was a monster. We all knew it, often well before the Doctor and his companion did. These aliens didn't need to be in a Dalek outer-shell to be ravenous beasts or evil super-villains.
Masks didn't have to be physical structures hiding the face either. They could be heavy make-up, meant to show different alien skin tones and features. Or they could be more subtle, the disguise of the person who is not who they are meant to be. And this is where it gets really scary.
For anyone who has watched Dr Who must agree with me here: for all the terrifying aliens and creatures that have graced our screens, one of the most deplorable, heartless, merciless, unsettling and revisited is The Master.
He may not have spiky fingers, green skin, a metal suit or a need to eat humans for supper, but he is more dangerous than these roving aliens because he always has a different agenda, a new reason to cause harm and he does it often because he can, not for a greater purpose.
What is more terrifying to a viewer, especially an aspie viewer, than someone who looks human and behaves like one but then is more evil and uncaring than many of the alien baddies? What does this tell the child watching the show?
It tells them that masks are not always visible, that people can be hiding behind a mask, even if you can see every bit of their face. That the greatest harm can be done by people you would pass in the street, without a second glance.
And the reason this idea is so frightening to children is because it makes us feel helpless. How can we know when danger is coming if we can't tell it apart from everything else? How are we meant to be able to see the tell-tale signs of a dark heart when the face looking back at us is as ordinary as our own?
In everyday life, we don't often meet people as evil as The Master, or anywhere close. Thankfully, we normally come across people whose worst trait is telling little white lies or being too impatient or not caring about the answer when they ask how you are. Aspies are used to people like this.
Then there are the ones who may do you harm, on a smallish scale. The gossip-mongers who sully your name, whether they have any ammunition or not. The ones who put in a bad word for you and diminish or destroy your opportunities. These people do you no good, and can make life very difficult indeed, but they're not waiting behind the sofa with the woodsman's axe.
The dangerous ones, the real bogeymen, we can do little about. The in-betweeners, the ones who smile to your face and immediately hurry off to do you harm, they are also outside our power to change. And the ones who just don't get us, or who snap when we don't get them, well, people are just people.
So why, given all the above, should masks, visible or invisible, be such a big deal still? If we can't do anything about them or the people who behave as if they live behind a false face, why should we worry?
Can we count the number of times our loved ones have said to us: take no notice, ignore them, put it out of your mind, don't let it get you down, don't be obsessive about it, why are you still thinking about that? And so on and so on.
Yes, we aspies are the ones who still, despite everything, don't expect people to wear masks. We don't expect them to behave differently to how they said they would, even when experience has taught us they might. We are still willing to trust that when someone says a thing, they will do a thing.
If we stop trusting someone, however, that trust is usually gone forever. We are not bearing useless grudges or clinging on to the past. Without a good reason for someone being false, we will often never trust them again. It's just the way it is. Our instincts, to take everyone at face value, have been beaten down by what people do, so if someone does lose our trust, they've had to do quite a lot to lose it in the first place. And, logically, they'll have to do even more to win it back. We have learned they cannot be trusted and once we learn something, it stays where we put it.
So, the mask idea is very, very important because to aspies, anyone who wears a mask is inherently untrustworthy. If we discover they're not who we thought they were, what's to stop them showing their other side again, in the future? Why should we risk going near them and being hurt again?
We also show a different face to the world than the one we hide inside. We've had to be what people expect us to be, so if someone behaves oddly or out of character and they have a reason for it, we can understand that. We can fathom certain reasons for not being who they say they are, if we've experienced those reasons for ourselves.
If someone is living behind the mask just because that's who they are, then we're going to have a full-on problem with that. They may not be a sci-fi super villain, or even a bad person, but they are not who they pretend to be; they are someone else and we don't know that other person, so how can we trust them?
Lack of trust inspires anxiety and fear, so not understanding why people behave the way they do, that inspires anxiety and fear too. And there we have it, turning a full circle: masks mean fear.
Readers, I'm not saying that we should be brutally honest all the time. I do believe that society has to have some oil to smooth the motions. If we were all like three year olds, shouting the truth no matter what, life could be quite trying. I really do understand that society as a whole, and individual people, need an element of privacy and mystery to function.
Whether that excuses the masks people wear is another matter. Perhaps to them and other non-aspies, they're just the same as I am when I'm trying to behave normally. Perhaps it's all a matter of degree and I've misjudged them.
I just feel that instincts are a powerful thing and, when understanding people and situations can be so tricky, as aspies we do learn to follow our instincts at times when other people would simply be talking about the weather.
This means that, if my instincts kick in and tell me someone is hiding their true nature, my first impulse is to vacate the scene, be it emotionally or physically. I'm naturally wary of anyone whose features can falter as their mask slips. Do I trust they have a good reason to be someone else, behind the mask? Or do I move on and keep myself safe?
I guess it all comes down to whether we see masks as a natural part of being human or not. If we don't, if we see them as a way to deceive the unwary, then the only natural part about masks is my need to stay right away from them!

Amanda




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