Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lost in a Masquerade

After finishing yesterday's blog entry I went to see the musical, Jekyll and Hyde. When the show ended, a friend asked what we thought the author meant to convey in this plot. Was it just to point out that everyone has a good side and an evil side, but the evil must be unacknowledged or it will get out of hand? Was it to say that we must all listen to the guidance of our social betters; that society's rules must be followed and that the individual who breaks away from the norm is doomed? Could it be that we need to leave vengeance in the hands of the gods, for when we take it into our own hands it can get addictive and we can get carried away? Or, as the old song says, is it just that "You always hurt the one you love"?

Given that the book was written (by Robert Louis Stevenson) in 1885, it seems safe to assume that most if not all of the above figured heavily in the author's plot decisions. But I found myself thinking again of the pharisee and the tax collector from yesterday's lesson. Surely the bishop in the musical was rather like the pharisee, praying in his arrogance with gratitude that he was pure and good. And surely Jekyll, beset as he was by his awareness of the capacity for evil within him, had that in common with the penitent tax collector.

So what does this story -- however imperfect it may be -- have to say about arrogance, humility and community? There's a song in the musical called "Facade." The song begins:

"There's a face that we wear
In the cold light of day -
It's society's mask,
It's society's way,
And the truth is
That it's all a fa├žade"

and then concludes:

"Man is not one, but two,
He is evil and good,
An' he walks the fine line
We'd all cross if we could!"

Essentially there's a Jekyll and Hyde in each of us, and we may respond to that awareness with the humility of the taxpayer, but are more likely to respond as does the Pharisee: to don the societal mask and play by the rules, loudly proclaiming our innocence. So perhaps the issue here is to discover the difference between society and community.

Perhaps society, that which makes the rules by which we play, is in truth indifferent to the soul within; appearances are everything. But community, at its best, contains within it a grain of intimacy which makes it more difficult to mask the truth. Confronted with the good, the bad, and the ugly in others, within the context of community, we have little choice but to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly within our own hearts. With luck, we can build enough trust in community that we can safely set aside our masks, if only for a moment, to reveal the true self within.

So then the question becomes, what is the nature of the true self within? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it both? Or is it possible that, like the shadow that each of us carries, the "bad self" is only empowered because it is masked; that, once revealed and explored, once opened to the light, it has as much potential for good as the positive aspects we so admire in ourselves? And if that's true, how can we as communities provide a safe space within which the unmasking can take place? I'm not sure I have the answer, but it's certainly something to think about.

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