Dances With Masks

A new topic for MA theses in sociology has emerged: mask savoir vivre. People are trying to feel our how to behave in a company of gentlemen: to muzzle themselves or not to muzzle themselves?

I experienced it while moving from Portsmouth to Southampton.

Our landlord Kevin visited us the day before the removal. He must have wondered for a long time whether to wear a mask of not. Because on the one hand, a mask is “in the spirit of the pandemic” and in England surrendering to government terror is a proof of high personal culture and taste. On the other hand, we already knew each other a little too well for that sort of nonsense. He finally chose the safer option and walked around out flat wearing the mask.

I greeted him coldly.

Apparently he felt that and had drawn conclusions. Because the next morning he showed up wearing his own face, like an honest man should. I on other hand wrapped myself in a shemagh, and looked like a terrorist from the Counter Strike game. Kevin is way to English to show his surprise, so he just avoided the eye contact. He wasn’t sure if I was a Muslim, or I was just fooling around. Or maybe I wanted to have a little revenge for his abusing my house the day before. Either way he was too polite to ask.

Eventually I felt sorry for him and took it off. It calmed him down.

Then four new guys showed up. The were not very young, but nobody had a mask. I decisively shook hands with everyone – another social experiment of mine. The results were interesting: each of them hesitated for half a second, but then decided that good old declaration of friendship was more important than a declaration of obedience to tyranny. I think no one wanted to be seen as a coward.

After that little operation the social rules were established and everyone felt relieved.

We packed the car with our stuff, and we were gone for Southampton. Good bye, Portsmouth. Nice living in you.

We’ve arrived. We’re standing in front of our new home in Southampton and waiting for the new landlord. Ah, here he comes. An old man. But what does he wear on his head? Ah, it’s turban. A big one. Very nice colors. He must be Hindu.

Suddenly the man get’s an old ugly piece of cloth from his pocket and puts in on his face. Cheap ugly mask and a beautiful turban, what a disgusting combination. The man continues walking to the house, his head wrapped with all this stuff. We follow him.

And at that moment, social training kicked in. Everyone felt he needs to adapt to the situation and do something. We have six people with a face, one without a face – it cannot be like that. What do the social norms dictate in this situation?

Dominika felt, it seems, a pathological respect for the elders, which is part of the Polish tradition. Therefore she put on a transparent piece of plastic that covers a face. It’s better that a mask. A person looks much less like a dog with a muzzle.

I, in turn, felt the urge to put on the shemagh again and to greet the man with a loud “salam alejkum”. But I changed my mind. Firstly, Hindus and Muslims not always love each other. Secondly, the new landlord has not deserved it yet. So I only kept my distance.

A minute later, Kevin flashes back in the hallway. With a mask on his face. Apparently, he could not stand the terrible pressure of the old man.

We talk, then we sign a contract. Then suddenly the landlord in a turban fells comfortable enough and decides he needs not make a fool of himself. So he takes that shit off his face. We all feel relieved.

This gesture triggered new social reactions: Dominika took off the plastic, I moved closer. And two minutes later, guess what? Kevin shows up again in the corridor. No mask! All that feels like we’re in a circus. Put stuff on, take stuff off and keep guessing what to do next. No rational reasons for anything any more. No arguments, no information and no one whispers the word “mask”. Nobody says what he or she expects others to do. All just keep guessing.

It turns out that everyone is watching others these days. All are adjusting to the panic. Whoever is the most confident individual in the room, he becomes an instant leader.

In this case, people adapted to me first. Because I’m confident in making my my own damn decisions for my own damn life. Then to the landlord. Because he is older, it’s his house and he wears an impressive turban.

The strangest thing about this all is that the Dances With Masks Kevin is not at all a poor little looser still living with his mom. On the contrary, he is an active entrepreneur who takes gis life into his own hands. But when it comes to social norms of muzzling, the man gets into English correctness mode, which apparently requires a man not to have his own opinion on any matter. This is evidently a trained reflex, which Kevin is a little ashamed of, I think.

It may not be a surprise to you that people are like that. You may be like that also. But for me it was a cultural shock. In my world people are true to themselves. In my inner life there is only one area, consistent and integral. There no wars. I’m not divided internally into a private life, public life, social, business, family, and church life. I am the same me in all the contexts.

There is a word for it in English: integrity.

This internal coherence is sometimes perceived as rude and rebellious. And no wonder: people who see lies as the norm, expect the same lies from others. I have seen more than once what a shock it is for the “normal” to meet someone who is not a hypocrite.

But it’s a good shock. It is an alarm clock for the soul. No alarm clock seems pleasant, but it does something good. It wakes people up. And meeting someone who has integrity can make you jealous. And maybe you’ll try it for yourself?

When I was 17 I met such people for the first time and was quite shocked. In my eyes, they seemed like people from another planet. A few days spent with them gave me more treasures than anything before. I realized it was possible to live a different life than I had known. I knew I wanted such life.

Everyone sets this social adjustment slider at some point. One extreme is “100% of me”, which means: I only do what I want, I don’t care for others at all. And the other is “0% of me”: I only do what others expect of me. You can set the slider wherever you want.

The problem is that you might be Dances With Masks Kevin. And your slider is set to the “0%” position permanently. It’s welded. By mothers, priests, school, TV. And it’s like that for most of the world.

In today’s world’s view, the perfect human is a robot.

But if it’s comfortable you, what do you care? Striving to be “normal” is your idea of ‚Äč‚Äčlife then, and it’s OK. Do what you want, or rather: do what other people want you to do.

I want you to remember just one thing: a robot cannot be happy.

Because robots do not feel. Robots are dead. Robots cannot be happy or unhappy. The robots are not really there.

Remember this.

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