The male teenager's Afro was so voluminous that a gust of wind could have blown him into flight like a kite surfer. The girl had bleach-blond hair down to her knees. Their clothes were in tatters, and their face paint reminded me of a Jackson Pollack disaster. As I drove by, I shook my head in disgust at how unkempt and defiantly dressed kids are today.
It was only when I parked in town to visit the post office and walked past a parade of outlandishly costumed revelers--French maids, dragons, vampires, knights and fairy princesses--that it dawned on me: Today was Halloween.
Arriving at work, I encountered a handful of colleagues who were similarly decked out. Larry wore a fat suit. Susan was the wicked witch. Gary was a king. I found this ironic, since Larry (although thin) is known for his stashes of junk food; Susan for being cold and conniving; Gary for having an ego bigger than that kid's Afro.
I've never worn a costume to work on Halloween, but I almost did once. It was a Superman costume, complete with bulging muscles and a red cape. Clearly, with that costume, I was saying something profound (albeit obvious) about how I see myself and my contributions at the office.
It occurred to me that the "masks" people put on are simply a more blatant reflection of their inner selves. So are masks disguises or simply crystallized advertisements of people's true inner selves?
The Lone Ranger's black mask signifies his loneliness. The goofy masks worn by Audrey Hepburn and her lover in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" signify their true penchant for fun in life--despite their outer "masks" of sophistication.
Personally, I find it's very rare not to see people for who they are, no matter how hard they try to mask their inner demons. Some people's greed, contempt for others and proclivity toward lying and cheating all seem to bubble to the surface. People tend to wear their character on their face.
Hiding an individual's complex tapestry of individual emotions is indeed the true task of a mask. Ancient Greek theater masks simplified emotions into two categories--happy or sad. This helped to convey emotion and focus on telling a story without getting the audience confused with too many emotions or distracting character traits that would otherwise show on an actor's face.
As in-house counsel we have to reveal ourselves in deeds, not emotions or individual proclivities. We must therefore always wear the "professional, objective attorney" mask. In that sense our mask is more akin to the simplicity inherent in a Greek mask--or more precisely, the Spartans' Hoplite warrior mask. No emotion at all. Just solid, sturdy and focused. No sign of weakness or wavering from the mission at hand. Our emotions must stay hidden inside the darkness of our warrior mask.
This is particularly true for small department counsel, because there is a lot more opportunity to mingle with colleagues and open up on a personal level--to drop the mask.
We must, however, be ever-vigilant in wearing our mask. This doesn't mean we lose our emotions or humanity, just that we keep them appropriately hidden. We have a role to play, and we should honor it by steadfastly wearing the mask.
Michael Baroni is general counsel and secretary for BSH Home Appliances.