We all enjoy the world of make believe. As children we listen intently to stories from the imagination and we never quite lose our thirst for enchanting tales. In the adult world tales of dragons and dead people who reanimate excite us even as we understand that they are not real. We humans enjoy flights of fancy and we have become expert at creating visions so detailed and true to life that we are able to suspend our disbelief and fully immerse ourselves in fictions that distract us from the grind of daily living. We build theme parks where we escape for hours into fantastic worlds with rides that both thrill and frighten us. Somehow we need entertainment that is part unbelievable and part akin to our own lives. It is as though the comedy and tragedy of existence is not enough to stimulate our thinking. We humans are extraordinary in our thirst for creative genius.
Mankind began artistry rather simply. People decorated their bodies with colors from the earth and festooned themselves with feathers, shells, horns and animal skins. Some extended their inventive urges to paintings on the walls of caves and the oral traditions of tales that recorded history or taught important ideas. We thought to develop alphabets and refined ways of scrawling notations onto surfaces that we might carry from one place to another. We improved our tools and even while we eked out survival we paused for moments of entertainment. There is no other earthly creature that does such things. Our history is one of wars and violence and humane progress. We enshrine heroes both true and make believe. We speak of man’s fatal flaws in stories so universal that they ring true even centuries after they were written. We face down our tragedies at the same time that we cloak them in facades.
The truth is often so horrific and difficult to face that we deal with it much better if it is presented in metaphors. We are able to think and react to a movie when we might turn away from what is real. A sympathetic hero or heroine allows us to suspend our prejudices and judgements for a moment so that our minds are free to consider new possibilities. We forget that the view that we see in a play or a film is usually made of cardboard and the technology of computers. We sometimes believe a well crafted story with a cast of brilliant actors more than we do the evidence that exists right before our eyes. Sometimes we have to escape from what is real to find the truths that we need to hear.
Shakespeare said that we are all actors on a stage. We prepare our faces and our lines before we emerge from our homes each day to interact with the audiences who expect certain behaviors from us. We think before we speak. We dress in accordance with fashion and the dictates of our jobs. We strut and compete to win the best roles. We aim to please so that we might earn the accolades and goodies that allow us to survive. Few of us have the courage to fully be our true selves wherever we go. We wait to reveal who we really are to those in whom we trust. We have learned that it is risky to be any other way but we secretly admire those among us who shoot the finger to conventions. It is difficult to keep up a facade.
Social media sites provide us with a forum for truth. They appear to provide us with freedom, power and anonymity. It is easy to type in the words that are struggling to leave our minds and then walk away. There is nobody standing in front of us when we hit the send or post buttons. We do not feel the fears of confrontation and yet our spontaneous actions are not without repercussions. Others feel just as daring and verbal jousts often ensue. As we tear down our facades of politeness the world becomes littered with commentaries and insults that hover forever as evidence of our frustrations. We want to be able to own our thoughts but experience has taught us that to do so is fraught with dangers. After we are burned we replace the masks that we wear for protection. We feign ignorance of our mistakes and sometimes even turn away from the discussions that gave us a false courage. We learn that nobody really wants to know our ideas nor do they value our opinions. We only make others angry when we speak the truth and most of us dislike the battles that follow
We instinctively know that much of what we see and hear is as unreal as the fiction that entertains us. We desire good news and so there are those who manipulate us into believing that they are the bearers of good tidings when all they really want is power over our thoughts and feelings. Only the very confident and strong are willing to stand their ground and take the abuse that comes from nobly shouting the truths that we find uncomfortable to hear. They are the stuff of legend. They often suffer for their honor. We see their like both in fictional heroes and reality. They are King Lear and Martin Luther King, Jr., Kaleesi and Rosa Parks.
We humans are a funny lot. We are truth seekers who live behind our protective facades. We are brave and cautious. We risk speaking honestly and we lie. We walk into danger and we run away. Our very natures and physiology prompt us to take chances and to protect ourselves. There is a constant tug of war between good and bad, bravery and cowardice. Like Batman we are one person in the light of day and another in the dark of night. We hate our facades but understand the need to couch our words and actions in acceptable forms of behavior. All of us are prisoners in some ways and free in others. The facades that we build protect us from misunderstandings and judgements. They give us an illusion of strength and security but we always know that they are not real. It is only when we are with the people who allow us to remove our masks and the fake fronts that we feel the liberation that each of us seek. It is called unconditional love and we crave it.
It would be glorious if we were to one day find that tolerance had become universal. How invigorating it would feel to know that each person might fully embrace his/her uniqueness without fear of being misunderstood or ostracized. We are working on reaching that point but still have a long way to go. Sadly our facades will have stay in place for now.