A Cloak of Many Layers

A Cloak of Many Layers

Everyone wears a cloak. It is a necessary skill to survive in our society. ‘What do you mean I’m cloaked?’ you say. ‘I’m the most genuine person I know!’ I’m sure that’s true, but tell me honestly, last week at the grocery store, when the cashier asked how you were doing, did you tell her that you were running on 3 hours on sleep and had run out of coffee, or did you say you were fine? I understand why people do this sort of thing. They say they’re just being polite, but the real answer is that they’re more concerned about society running smoothly than they are about making connections. I have very little patience for this. If someone asks how I’m doing, I tell them. I have to pee. I’m too hot. I’m exhausted, thank you for asking. This is partially because my brain compels me to take words at face value, instead of how they’re intended. The other part of it is that cloaking myself requires huge amounts of energy, so I only do if for things that I deem important. And trying to figure out if the receptionist at my doctor’s office ACTUALLY wants to know how I am, or if they’re just being polite, is not important.

I also think that we all have different levels of cloaking. The difference between telling someone you’re fine when you’re not, telling your neighbor how much you loved his cookies, even though they were burned, these are minor level cloaking. They may fall under what people call a white lie. Doing this doesn’t take much energy for most people, and there’s very little chance anyone is going to get hurt. Then you move up to mid-level cloaking, pretending you know how to do something at work when you don’t. You forgot a baggie and you dog poops in the neighbor’s yard, and you ignore it even though you’re a good person. These sorts of cloaks could get you in some trouble, but people do them every day anyway. They hide parts of their personalities to make their day smoother, even if they might be consequences. These things are common, and potentially harmful, but they’re nothing like the ultimate cloak. These are the blackout curtains of cloaks. Pretending your drink is a rum and coke instead of just a coke because none of your work friends know you’re sober. Convincing a friend to go with you as your ‘date’ to the family Thanksgiving with you so Aunt Susan won’t tease you about being a lesbian, especially because she doesn’t know that you are one. This sort of cloak is incredibly harmful. It damages your relationships and it makes your life a lie. There are reasons for these cloaks. We wouldn’t use them if they weren’t helpful. But helpful doesn’t mean healthy.

I’m not claiming that I don’t use cloaks. Scripting is a cloak, I’m saying what I’ve memorized instead of what I mean. So is mirroring. Instead of using my own flappy, rocky, twirly body language, I just mimic someone else’s. I look at the bridge of someone’s nose approximately once every 12 seconds, so they think I’m making eye contact. And I follow their topic of conversation, even though I’ve been bored since the first minute. Once someone goes from acquaintance to friend, I drop off a layer of cloaks. There are benefits and disadvantages for both of us. I get harder for them to read, because my body language and facial expressions and eye contacts aren’t natural for them anymore. But they gain my enthusiasm when we talk about things that interest me. I get more energy since I’m not busy cloaking, and I actually get to connect with people that I like. Downside for me is since they’re having trouble reading me, their responses are less predictable. Which is an acceptable consequence. I think at least parts of this experience are universal, just like cloaks. People act differently with their family than their friends, their friends from their coworkers, their coworkers from strangers. And I’m not trying to convince anyone that cloaks are bad. They’re necessary. But what I do think is that being aware of the cloaks that you wear, and maybe being willing to step outside of your comfort cloaks, may lead you to experiences and connects that positively affect your life. Why not, right?

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