Behind the mask

by Paul Goodchild on March 31, 2010

Behind Your Mask

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in Koh Samui, which wasn’t following my volunteering model, but it was all for a great cause none-the-less 🙂  I had a tremendously enjoyable time catching up with friends from Japan and elsewhere.  Following a couple months of volunteer work, it was a great release from an established routine.

Any time you travel, or at least separate yourself from your established peer group for a sustained period, you will likely be surprised at how much they change.  You can’t remember this and that particular thing about the last time you were together – it’s as if a new spotlight is shining on them and you see things in them anew.

I’m sure if you understand me by now, or you’ve read other articles on this site, you know what I’m going to say next.  It is not they who have changed, it is not new parts of them exposed under another light, but it’s you.  You hold the extra torches and it is your focus that has changed.

It’s all about perspective

If you’ve ever taken time to experiment with photography, and for example altered your physical position on the same subject, placed the camera in weird places, adjusted the aperture wildly, or changed the object of focus, you may be amazed at the many different things you will notice between one shot and the next.

So it is when you lift yourself out of your routine and live another way of life. Returning to your comfortable environment will feel a little foreign or that it has adopted new characteristics from when you last remember it.

Why is  that?  It comes back to my earlier post: we see things as we are.  These new-found characteristic were in all likelihood always there, you just didn’t have awareness of them before.

For me, being on the “road” and living on my own time, and very much in my own space for the last few months, has shifted my outlook somewhat.  This was very pronounced when so many friends came together at once and almost immediately the collective social environment within which I was previously living was effectively transported to where I was now.  The same social rules, social etiquette, and expectations… (I’ll call it social infrastructure because I like big words) that previously existed was real for me once again.

There’s nothing wrong with that particular infrastructure, it was just a challenge to move out of it, and then be required to shift back.

For fear of becoming repetitive, as I’ve referred to it before, plugging in to foreign places and cultures requires an open and as least judgemental platform as possible in order to enjoy, connect, and experience it as deeply as possible.  How far I’ve shifted was very clearly illustrated to me as I interacted with my friends.  On a daily basis, they must adhere to another set of rules that demands of them certain things to which I don’t need to subscribe, as I travel.  For example, when living in one place, we are conscious of the impact our actions will have on our local public image and reputation and we effectively wear different masks for each and every occasion to maintain it – in any city, the degrees of separation is very small.  I have my masks too since I’m not immune to my previous social programming, but I’m getting rid of them as I become increasingly conscious of them – which why I write these articles.

Social expectations

Shortly before Koh Samui, while in Nong Khai, after being introduced to a group of female friends of mine and the explicit nature of the conversation topics that were covered, my friend said something along the lines of, “Is that how you’d expect a lady to behave?!  She actually talks like that when you first meet her!  It was disgusting – I felt sick.”

Now this has so many issues with it that it’s hard to know where to start.  But you guessed right, I’ll give it a shot anyway…

Expect?  Who are we to expect how others should behave in a social context?  If we don’t like it, we can sod off.  How can what someone says to you be so horribly offensive as to make you feel sick.  Especially, if you have heard, seen and likely said much worse yourself.

Expect of a lady?  Why is our social conditioning so warped that we’re to believe that in public women are to be neat, prim and proper and they can’t straight talk like men.  It goes the other way too of course.  Men and women alike talk very frankly “in private”, but for some reason, coming anywhere near that in public is just unconscionable.

Why does the way someone speak to you the first time you meet them have to conform to certain standards, and then when you know them a little better, it’s okay to talk a little bit more openly?  What happens in that interim space that permission is implicitly granted?

I think this little incident brought it all into clear focus for me before I travelled down to Koh Samui, and on the back of that I found myself rebelling against people’s need to adhere to social rules and social hierarchies, that represent double standards to which I don’t subscribe. Or at least, I don’t want to.

So, I pushed the boundary a little bit.  It wasn’t just their boundaries, but mine also.  It was interesting to see how people reacted, and how I felt, to my frankness and “humour” and while I didn’t make any enemies, I probably wasn’t making any life-long friends either.  But that’s okay, since the feeling that comes from having more personal freedom greatly out-ways the upside of a new friendship that is based on acceptance of me wearing a particular mask.

Be who you are

I wrote some time ago about wanting to be myself, more – to shift the saturation up further and ensure that the me that you all see is the same as what I see.  I’m getting there and it comes from caring less and less about how people judge you and much more importantly, not analysing perceived consequences from it.  Looking back, this was a real stumbling block for me in Tokyo – the hinderance wasn’t Tokyo, or people who knew me, it was simply me.  I had a fairly large social circle and often when I was out somewhere there would be somebody who I’d meet randomly, or who would at least see/recognise me, so I was quite conscious of who I was with and what I was doing – I was too cautious of the consequences I was creating.  I wonder, and I wont truly know unless I’m back in that kind of environment, will I revert to this behaviour once more?

My dad once said to me something that went a little like this… we spend the first 30 years of our lives worrying about what people think of us, the next 10 years learning to not care what they think, and the next 10 years realising that people actually didn’t care in the first place.

There are a lot of things I want to articulate in this article, as much for myself as anyone else, and I’m not sure I’ve addressed them all.  If none of this makes sense, or you don’t care, then the only thing I’ll suggest is this.  Next time you think about doing something and you’re not too sure whether you should or not, try to forget about your perceived consequences that will come from it.  Don’t analyse what people will think, or what they’ll say behind your back, just whether you want to do it and see what happens when you do.

Use your best judgement, not theirs.  Then just accept the consequences.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura June 2, 2010 at 02:12

“Next time you think about doing something and you’re not too sure whether you should or not, try to forget about your perceived consequences that will come from it. Don’t analyse what people will think, or what they’ll say behind your back, just whether you want to do it and see what happens when you do.

Use your best judgement, not theirs. Then just accept the consequences.”

Oooooooh, love it. What if your own best judgement is crap?! I fear mine truely is at times!

PS Will defo have to note this quote down. Along with “If I lost this thing I now have, would I be less of a person without it”, this is one of my favourite thoughts of yours!


Paul Goodchild June 2, 2010 at 19:55


thank you so much for the comments. I’m glad you like them. I’ve never thought of myself being quoted before, but I guess if it resonates with people, then it’s gonna eventually 🙂

Who cares if your judgement is crap anyway, when you make an error, as you might see it after the fact, then you learn something new. So it’s all good right? It’s not about getting it right each time, but edging closer to knowing yourself better so your judgement improves for next time =)


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