By Priya Arunkumar
Many years ago, someone who came in to our office for a meeting, with one of my colleagues, also happened to meet me, spoke to me for half an hour or so. And before walking away he dropped a mini bombshell: “What a ‘sweet, soft spoken’ person!” he commented of me.
The building didn’t shake. The room didn’t emanate acrid smoke after the ‘bomb’.
Instead it went dead quiet. You could hear them catch their breath!
All three of my co-workers in the room just froze; their fingers stiff above the type keys, their mouths open, they simply stared at me stunned.
I repeat, stunned.
Their reaction also made me freeze in my tracks and I lost focus on my work the whole day.
Not because I was flying high on the “cho chweet” compliment, but because of my colleagues’ reaction had in turn shocked me.
What a letdown!
Well, at the least, I must admit that they were honest.
She can be sweet if she wants to
One of them broke the ice: laughing out loud, she commented, well that man must be blind! The second one said, no, no, she is actually sweet, if she made an effort not to speak! The third one said, well, she could fake it if she wants to – but ‘sweet’?
Finally the last comment nailed it all. “The first half hour she is actually sweet, if he had worked with her for a full day, he would have been witness to the transformation and would have run for his life!”
Someone whom I thought was close to me grinned and said ‘do not listen to any one; you are a specimen, unique… these guys are just jealous that a stranger called you sweet and nice’. The look on my face made her change her words the very next minute. I wouldn’t worry, if I were you. Not everyone is able to understand you — you are one of a kind. There cannot be another you, she concluded. There you go!
Thought you all knew me
In a span of 10 minutes, I had several different views of ‘me’ from people I spend hours working, laughing and even sharing personal thoughts with.
And, did I get to say a word? Did I ask for an opinion? Nope!
Am I a people pleaser? I can be. I am not too bad at that. Did I not speak sweetly to a person whom I hardly knew? Yes, I did! What is wrong with that? He went away happy thinking I am a sweet person. Was it wrong on my part? Was I deceiving him? No, not at all, I had no reason to be rude or brusque with him. And he wasn’t annoying. He was also very nice, so I was in turn nice to him. That is all.
Who is the real me?
But my colleagues… I am sitting with them daily for hours together, feel I am rude and rather brutally frank; that I say things without any thought, and am not cut out to be a “nice” person with socially acceptable behaviour. Is that true? Is that what I am? Is that the real me? And do I conveniently change myself to fit in place? Do I wear a mask for every person I meet?
Well, then, aren’t we all wearing masks to suit the roles we play? The masks we wear are to protect ourselves, show the best of ourselves, a poker face here, and a teary face there… though sometimes, they may slip off a little, revealing the true identity.
One day will shed it
One day, just one day, I hope it does not get too painful to shed the masks we get so attached to. I have a set of friends who call me cool; a friend who calls me “Iron Lady,” a bunch of them who won’t talk to me at all, but talk about me; a few of them who think I am intolerable, rude, proud, even a monster; but yes, there are also some who think I am sweet. So, I have worn all of these masks well… haven’t I?
It can be scary sometimes; but being who you really are — without a mask that is — is never a bad idea.