4288507944In his iconic American novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that “no man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” Why, you might ask, do I choose this moment to bring up Hawthorne? I’ve recently become intrigued by the idea of masks, fronts and images.

We all know that to wear a mask is to create a new face for ourselves and to pretend to be someone different. Many people don metaphorical masks to hide their true identities. I’ve found that at Georgetown, masks have a large presence in our culture, from students attempting to fit in to the anonymous posts on Georgetown Confessions. In the process, many people’s true identities become confused. As they work on keeping their masks in place, too often they become the person they are pretending to be.

This is truly unfortunate. Masks may provide feelings of courage. They may provide a sense of freedom. But in the end, neither of these feelings are legitimate — they are merely false senses of security. Only when we remove these pretenses and come out from behind anonymity can we have a platform to stand on, from which we can make positive changes to ourselves and to the world. If we do not know who we truly are, then we cannot know what problems we truly have, and we therefore won’t know how to transform ourselves for the better.

A truly tragic use of a mask came about on Monday, when a gunman in a military uniform killed 12 innocent victims at the Navy Yard here in the District before being shot himself. The gunman, who was revealed to be a former Navy reservist, wore a mask. It is too early to tell what exactly led him to carry out these evil deeds — whether it was rage, hate or a lack of any sense of humanity. The perpetrator let these emotions and evil spirits control him and take hold of the reins to his life, leading him into the darkness. He was changed by his mask of hate, and this mask led him to destroy precious human lives in the process. While there was no way of foreseeing this tragedy or replacing those lost to it, in its wake we all have the chance to reflect on how we can best interact in a benevolent and honest way.

The truth can often be hard to handle. Often times, it is not easy to acknowledge, but it is necessary and beneficial to our personal and communal existence. Truth is the basis for the Jesuit emphasis on contemplation, and it is the foundation of all healthy human interactions. In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Polonius advises his son: “To thine own self be true.” When we take off our masks and listen to our true selves, we wisely follow this advice.

James Gadea is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Elephant in the Room appears every other Friday.

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