Encountering Anne Frank and the Mask we all Wear

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I bought Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” on the 18th June 2003. It has become one of my favorite books. Anne Frank writes brilliantly and I can only wish I could write as well as her. She’s mature and her maturity shows through her thoughts in her diary. Yet she’s also witty and has a sense of humor. Her book reminds me of the movie Angela’s Ashes. I haven’t read the book yet but the movie is similar to Anne Frank’s book in that both dwell on serious issues and yet you’re guaranteed to laugh through the movie/book.

Anne was 14 when she wrote the book, yet the thoughts she expressed are that of a person way beyond her age. This book is a classic and I’m sure many people have their reasons for loving this book. I think the reason for most is that this diary gives a glimpse of how a Jewish family and girl faced the German occupation. It is thus treated as a diary of one who faced a historically tragic event. A diary to be treasured for its historical worth. A diary to be read to feel the realities of persecution that happened a long time ago. However, for me, this diary is special because it represents for me a glimpse into the thoughts and emotions of a maturing child. And these thoughts are precious and exciting to read – just as nowadays we read the life journals of people on the Internet. Except, Anne writes so much better than most others. So it is a view into the life and heart and soul of a person that I am interested in. In this world of superficiality, it is no wonder that I, and indeed many people, have been drawn to Anne’s diary – full of emotions, full of sharing, full of secrets, full of depth and full of life. You won’t get to read such personal and honest diary entries elsewhere. And that’s what makes it so special and rare.

One thing that I especially love in her diary is her honesty about the issue of friendship. As she grows older, she finds that she longs for friendships and relationships of depth. Not just the shallow kind of friendships we all have. She longs to share all her thoughts and feelings with someone, yet doesn’t have a friend that she feels can understand her fully. Maybe she was mature beyond her years and most of her friends weren’t interested in such things. Yet even if we ourselves have mature friends, that doesn’t mean we share our whole lives with them. We long to find people who understand us and will listen to us and who we can trust. But that’s easier said that done. Many of us, I believe, do not have friends like that. We have friends we can have a good time going out with together, but not many or any friends with whom we can share our every thought and emotion. Anne wrote her diary precisely because she wasn’t able to confide everything with anyone:

I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support. (12th June 1942, her first diary entry)

Now I’m back to the point that prompted me to keep a diary in the first place: I don’t have a friend… On the surface I seem to have everything, except my one true friend. All I think about when I’m with friends is having a good time. I can’t bring myself to talk about anything but ordinary everyday things. We don’t seem to be able to get any closer, and that’s the problem. Maybe it’s my fault that we don’t confide in each other. In any case, that’s just how things are, and unfortunately they’re not liable to change. This is why I’ve started the diary. (20th June 1942)

Why do most of us not have such a friend in whom we can confide everything? It’s because of the “mask” we all wear – “the difference between everyone’s inner and outer selves” (19th March 1944). In this entry below, she reflects on why it’s hard to connect with other people, why it’s hard to share one’s life with another:

Can you tell me why people go to such lengths to hide their real selves? Or why I always behave very differently when I’m in the company of others? Why do people have so little trust in one another? I know there must be a reason, but sometimes I think it’s horrible that you can’t ever confide in anyone, not even those closest to you. (22nd January 1944)

These are honest feelings that I think all of us feel inside. Or is it just me? Do we not long to share everything with people? But we don’t. We don’t act ourselves. We hide our true self – feelings and thoughts – behind a mask because we’re scared at what others will think of us if we were to share them out. We keep a secret life in our heads – a secret thought life. We probably never fully share this thought life out with anyone – except, perhaps, sometimes your spouse. For those who believe in God or a higher power and pray and talk to Him, you share this life with Him too – for there’s nothing to be afraid of sharing with Him. But with others? We’re more cautious.

I look back at that Anne Frank as a pleasant, amusing, but superficial girl, who has nothing to do with me. What did Peter say about me? ‘Whenever I saw you, you were surrounded by a flock of girls and at least two boys, you were always laughing, and you were always the center of attention!’ He was right. What’s remained of that Anne Frank? Oh, I haven’t forgotten how to laugh or toss off a remark, I’m just as good, if not better, at hauling people over the coals, and I can still flirt and be amusing, if I want to be… But there’s a catch. I’d like to live that seemingly carefree and happy life for an evening, a few days, a week. At the end of that week I’d be exhausted, and would be grateful to the first person to talk to me about something meaningful. I want friends, not admirers. (7th March 1944)

Two things strike me about the above passage. The first is how Anne states the superficial, happy-go-lucky person is not the real her. The one that everyone thinks is so cool and the one that is so popular – those qualities that people see of her do not represent the real her inside. At times she may just like to relax and be her carefree self, but she knows that she also longs for meaningful sharing with friends. A lot of us are like that. We show off our superficial self in groups. We laugh and have fun but have no time to share our deep feelings with each other. And all this makes our friendships superficial and it doesn’t fulfill us. This leads to the second thing that struck me. That is the sentence, “I want friends, not admirers.” I think that is a powerful sentence. Anne could be so popular and the center of attention with her group of friends. They all admired her, yet that never satisfied her. What she really wants are friends: friends that can connect with her deep secret thought life. Friends with whom she doesn’t need to wear her mask and hide behind it.

Yet why does he hide his innermost self and never allow me access? Of course, he’s much more closed than I am, but I know from experience that in time, even the most uncommunicative types will long as much, or even more, for someone to confide in. (13th June 1944)

Like Anne, I think everyone longs to communicate and confide everything with someone. Even those who seem like the type who doesn’t talk much. There’s a deep longing in everyone to connect to other people in a deep way. Sometimes it doesn’t show, but if given the opportunity, it will. The mask will come off and people will share. If only we allow such opportunities for all to share their heart and connect with us.

As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things…This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me… My lighter, more superficial side will always steal a march on the deeper side and therefore always win. You can’t imagine how often I’ve tried to push away this Anne, which is only half of what is known as Anne – to beat her down, hide her. But it doesn’t work, and I know why. I’m afraid that people who know me as I usually am will discover I have another side, a better and finer side. I’m afraid they’ll mock me, think I’m ridiculous and sentimental and not take me seriously. (1st August 1944, her last diary entry)

I think almost everyone has this split personality. Sometimes it’s more extreme, sometimes less. That is, sometimes the contrast between what’s on the outside and inside is greater, and sometimes lesser. All of us have a personality we show on the outside to others. And then we have our real selves that’s hidden behind a mask – only known to us and maybe a few others. Anne’s contrast seems to be quite big. She’s known to take things lightly and to be full of “exuberant cheerfulness”. Through my experience, I’ve found out that the kind of people that are like that are usually those who have a pretty big inner life. While most of us think that such a person only cares about superficial things, that’s usually not the case. We cannot judge the inner life of the person by his/her outer life.

In the last sentence, Anne pinpoints the reason why we all wear a mask. That is, we do so because if we were to share our true inner selves, we’ll be accused of being too sentimental. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with being sentimental and feeling a lot. All of us do so. Sometimes if we share our inner life at the wrong time, we won’t get a listening year. Sometimes if we share our inner life with the wrong person, we’ll be ridiculed. A person who ridicules you or thinks you’re too sentimental is probably afraid of connecting with his/her feelings and inner life. If that’s the case, it’s not your fault for wanting to share, it’s his/her fault for not knowing how to connect.

I love this book so much because it describes so well the feeling and thoughts of one who longs to connect with another in a deep manner. I believe that’s what we all long for. Some of us have close friends to do that. Many of us don’t. Some are longing for people to share their lives with. Others are afraid to connect to their inner selves. We should all not be afraid. One element of Emotional Intelligence after all is to be in touch with one’s feelings and emotions. This is needed as a pre-requisite for empathizing with others, which is important skill we all should have. So let us not be afraid to share our lives and connect with others. That will only make our lives more fulfilling. It’ll also providing much healing to a lot of us.

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