The Face Behind the Mask

by Martin Poehler

National political campaigns have recently taken place in England and France. Politicians gave their views on unemployment, the economy, the European Union, and other important issues. Some candidates seemed sincere in their viewpoints and genuinely committed to giving good public service. Others seemed to be more concerned with furthering their own careers than with serving their countrymen. Some of us today tend to be a bit wary of the promises and claims politicians make. Most people feel at least a little distrust towards people running for office. We've even heard people say, "I don't trust politicians. They're all rotten--you can't believe them."

Spin Doctors

Why are some people wary of politicians? One thing that can make us doubt their trustworthiness is how they use images of themselves. Some politicians are truly what they appear to be--they "ring true". However, we're aware that some media consultants make their living by changing candidates' images. These consultants through opinion poll research learn what are the candidate's perceived weaknesses. These "spin doctors" then produce a media campaign to change that weak image. For instance, women may think a candidate is hard and uncaring. They therefore give him a low approval rating. So the candidate and his advisers begin a campaign to make him look more appealing to women. They try to make him appear as a caring person. Because we know some candidates mount image campaigns like this, we naturally ask ourselves, "Is each candidate what he appears to be, or has his image been doctored to make it different from his true nature? Has he made himself look better than he actually is?"

Many politicians are truly what they appear to be. But we know that some alter how they appear to help themselves get elected. They present themselves in some ways different and better than they actually are. We feel we're right when we call these politicians hypocrites--people who appear to be one thing but actually are another.

Wearing Masks

People who act in the way I've just described are somewhat like the actors of ancient Greece. Those actors wore masks to show the nature of the characters they played. They wore a smiling mask or a frowning mask to show the viewers the inner nature of the character. But in reality, many times the actor behind the mask was nothing like the person he portrayed in the play. That a discrepancy sometimes exists between the outward image and the inner man is also mentioned in the Bible. It says, "The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Probably most of our lives are in many ways satisfying, and are, in some ways, less than satisfying. What tends to make them unsatisfying is underlying tension in relationships. We may feel this tension with our boss, or someone else we deal closely with--such as a husband, wife, or close friend. Tension in these relationships often has a simple cause. For example, we may feel a particular situation at work involving us and our boss isn't right. We're sure it's good to talk about this truthfully with him. But we also feel if we do this, he might take what we say the wrong way. We believe if that happened our career could be damaged. So sometimes, even for years, we make it appear that all is well between us and our boss. We make ourselves appear and speak so that everyone thinks all is going exceptionally well between us. The truth is that it isn't. There are one or two situations that make us feel uncomfortable. But we make it appear as if we are happy about everything, so that our relationship with our boss stays on a steady basis--and our career stays on the right track.

We saw that some politicians put forward images which don't represent their true natures. They try to look different and better than they really are, to get our approval. They hope this will help get them elected and further their careers. We've just looked at how some of us make ourselves appear to our friend, husband or wife, or boss. We at times sound or appear very different on the outside from what we really are on the inside. Why? We act this way so the other person will think highly of us. If we are honest, however, we'd admit we're misrepresenting ourselves. But it's important our relationship with them stays steady, often for the sake of our career and security.

If we act this way, couldn't it be said that we're acting as hypocrites--in fact, not acting very differently from the politicians we mentioned? Often we speak and appear one way, while inside we are different people altogether. As we saw, this way of living often brings tension into our lives. For our own peace of mind, we each seem to have a deep need: to be on the outside a true picture of what we are on the inside. Most of us know one or two people who somehow are able to live this way. Their lives seem to give evidence that some Help makes this kind of harmonious life possible.

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