A sentence I have said many times throughout my life. A sentence that happens to make me sound like a sociopath when taken out of context. However, this sentiment does not shine light on my sociopathic tendencies. What it does, is show where exactly in life, in my opinion, you will meet a large part of what a person is truly made of.
I have seen and experienced many things, ranging from wonderful to brutal, in my short 25 years on this Earth. I have met people who I am convinced, are the best this world has to offer. I’ve also met people whose very existence makes me question the reality of a god. I have seen us. Humanity: in all its charitable, empathic, sick, twisted, and magnificent forms. I have seen the masks that we wear. The facades we create around our lives so that we are “nice enough”, “normal enough”, and so we “fit in.” I’ve seen us change every single thing about ourselves so that we meet this invisible, yet ever present pressure to be… what exactly? No one really knows. We all have different expectations placed upon us; served up by whatever socioeconomic, cultural, or religious rules we are exposed to. Everyone has someone trying to make them into something else.
So where does that leave us? With a world full of people who don’t even know who they are, none the less, who anyone else is. From a very young age I was incredibly sensitive to when someone wasn’t being totally upfront with me. It was like this 6th sense that I was blessed (or cursed) with that allowed me to cut through these man-made masks and see below the surface. Many times, I found a person who was hurting and just trying to get by. Other times I found a dark, vile, sickness that was stashed away beneath etiquette and a fake smile. Occasionally, I would find a truly amazing person who was only attempting to protect their heart from the hardships of this world. Nonetheless, I very soon became interested in what exactly it is that makes people tick. Why do we build these masks? Who are these people, really? And how do we make a world of hidden secrets transition into one of honesty and openness? How can we change this? Well, I learned quickly that people like their masks. Because, what they really are, is a safety net. They are what many people see as their “protection”. At least in my part of the world they are. In other places, hiding your heart and all your flaws is considered good etiquette and is what’s expected of you.
Throughtout the years however, I have seen many masks fall. I have seen quite a few people for who they truly are. So what will drag the real “us”, kicking and screaming, out of our picture perfect, well crafted shells? A few things. But the biggest one I’ve seen, is when a person faces true adversity. When life is not easy, when the cards are stacked against them, when they are struggling. That is when the true heart and soul of a person comes out; for better or worse. I have seen a person I respected and loved dearly become a bitter, resentful, entitled brat when he was forced to work for something because his life was falling apart. I have seen the best woman I know break open, with all her vulnerabilities on display; and I’ve watched her pick up the pieces, muster all of her strength, and forge ahead to a better life for her and her children. I have seen what sick men act like when they’re behind closed doors, out of view from the world. I have seen people find hidden courage and deeply sewn defects, that they themselves did not know existed. Because at the end of the day, being backed into a corner, brings out the most instinctual, animalistic, yet oftentimes true, version of ourselves.
Let me see you struggle. Let me see who you are when your life depends on it; when no one is watching. Let me see what you become when nothing is going your way and everything is against you. Let me see how you act when you have nothing or everything to lose. That will show your TRUE colors. This is what I’ve come to believe; and it’s okay if you don’t agree with me.
In order to understand my logic you have to first understand that I am not talking about what brings out the best in people. I am referring to what brings out their true character: the good, the bad, the ugly. No one, and I mean no one, is the best version of themselves when everything is going wrong. But these survival instincts that kick in, these things they do to get by, what they become in the face of adversity, is oftentimes a glimpse under the surface. It may show their strength, or their weakness. It may show they’re actually ruthless, not loving and empathic. It may show they’re flawed, but still good people (I fall into this category). It may show they’re sick and twisted; that all you’ve seen so far was but a mask, manufactured to hide them from the world in order to skate by unnoticed.
I myself, am a survivalist. When the world is against me and everything is falling apart, I always grit my teeth and move forward. However, I can also become very callous towards those who threaten my livelihood or my people. I can muster the strength and resiliency to endure what may have killed others. I fight, vehemently, for the things and people I care about. I am fiercely loyal. But I am also flawed. I have been so protective of myself and my loved ones that I have hurt people who didn’t deserve it. I have walked away from good people, without giving them a chance; because I had suffered enough at that point and couldn’t afford to take another risk on them. I sometimes get overly emotional. Other times, I’m too disconnected and function in survival mode without being able to clearly see how it effects others.
So what does all of this say about me? A lot. Can it fully explain my entire character? No. But it is far more authentic than who I pretended to be sitting in that Sunday sermon in Plantersville, Alabama in 1998. It is much more accurate than the mask I put on when I was in school or at my grandmother’s house. It shows some things that on a base level, are undeniably true about me. I am loyal. I am resilient. I am headstrong. I am damaged. I protect who and what I love. I have a mean streak; reserved only for those who threaten my life, wellbeing, or loved ones in a malicious way. I have fight in me, and probably always will; even when this life has exhausted me beyond belief. Who I am when I’m struggling can tell you all of these things. And unlike the many masks I myself have worn, they are all absolutely and completely true.
So while the struggle may not tell you every single thing about someone; it will inevitably give you a look into what they are made of. It will unintentionally hand you a few of that person’s truths. In my opinion, that is far better than a million little masks in a world full of facades. I want what is real, what is raw; I want the untamed, uncut, unedited version of everything. Let me see you struggle; because then, and only then, can I love (or hate) you for exactly who you are.
by Ashley Hebner
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