Skip to main content


We discover that we do not know our role; we look for a mirror; we want to
remove our make-up and take off what is false and be real. But somewhere
a piece of disguise that we forgot still strikes us. A trace of exaggeration
remains in our eyebrows; we do not notice that the corners of our mouth
are bent. And so we walk around, a mockery and a mere half:
neither having achieved being nor actors.


The person, by definition, is that which plays a role or a persona, derived from the Greek word which literally meant wearing a mask in a Greek tragedy as an actor who is part of the dramatis personnae or cast of characters. One plays a role which is assigned to him with or without his consent; and in a real sense, no one asks us most of the time whether or not we want to play a role. We assume some roles solely by virtue of birth, and being the social being that man is, we cannot but play such roles. This is what it means to have relationships: I am related to another and the relationship's survival and well being depends as much on the ability of those who are related to support and continue to assume their roles. I am then responsible for all the roles that I play. I am then the son, the brother, the friend, the citizen, the Christian, etc., all at the same time. And as I continue to mature and relate to others more and more, I find myself acquiring new roles or having to develop old ones better. I may then become the worker, the leader, the lover or the father aside from my present roles.

It can then be seen that my role in the play of life becomes more challenging and most of the time more difficult. At times we juggle between roles or find ourselves failing in one particular role because we concentrated on a relationship which seemed more important. Some roles may ask more from us at different times. And while we are always reminded to be well rounded by playing all our roles well, this balancing act may leave one exhausted, or worse, confused. The danger of playing too many roles is the danger of spreading ourselves too thinly; likewise, the danger of focusing on just one role is the danger being too one-sided and even predictable. A life time may then be seen as a balanced attempt to be so many thing to so many people. In that multiplicity, I show different aspects of myself in order to fulfill the different responsibilities I assume. In a certain sense, I am as rich as the number of fulfilled roles that I play. Thus the inexhaustibility of the person.

But behind all the roles that we play in our lives lies someone which is neither this nor that. I may have many masks, this is true; yet I who wear such masks, by myself, am left unmasked. Like a secret identity, this is the self which lies hidden from view to others--and even from one's self. The Johari window teaches us that there is a public side of us which we and others know, a private side which only we know, a side which only others know, and finally a side which nobody knows. The totally unknown self: this is the abyss in us which escapes every attempt of being defined or circumscribed.

Even if it may be called the soul, spirit, cogito, subject, ego, consciousness, being, etc., these names never touch this unknown region of the self. To even call it the 'self' would even miss its unknowability. But being unknown does not mean that it is never experienced. I experience it whenever I look into myself and see nothing there. I sometimes fleetingly grasp it when I stare into the void and forget my self and all my roles. I glimpse at it most often in the morning as I wake up half-conscious where I still am yet to assume or am reminded of who I am as I walk out of my dreams. Anxiety reveals us naked in front of this absurd world, stripped as it were of all our masks and forced to face an unforgiving sun that leaves us exposed. There are many more examples of such moods and experiences but they all point to the possibility of tapping into what would otherwise be unmarked territory. These are ways rather than proofs of this unknown and unmasked 'self.' They signal rather than show.

All these leave me confused. Am I to be pinned down to one role or am I the collection of these roles? Am I something in between them or are these roles simply aspects or flashes of this true self? Or am I finally nothing--without having any relation to my roles, staying in the unfathomable depths of that hidden self? Everyday experience shows me to be a collection of roles which hides and covers over the role-less self. Who am I among these? Or is still there an I which can be talked about?

I pretend to know myself with the masks that I put on for others, showing myself to be this or that, projecting a person who is such and such a being. I am confident that there is some form of continuity between these masks I wear lest I find myself too dispersed and making up lies. I imagine that I become a better person as I improve on my relationships. But all these do not mean anything when I find myself asking who I really am. All the answers I can come up with pale in comparison to the question which my heart asks. I was searching for clarity but my reality can only afford laughable answers. Anyone, I realize, can be a son, a brother, a student, a teacher, a dreamer or a lover; what makes me so different from the other? Reason says that I can only be this such son, or this such brother, etc., but my aseity does not offer an answer to who this such is. I then realize that I can never be sure even if it came to myself. The warmth of the sun on my face and the cool hand of the evening offer more truth to what I call this self. Now I can never know.

The good thing is we are all asked to play in this game. There is no time to dwell on this self as we are always asked to display a facade, to maintain a face and to play a role so that others can join as well. We always put on a mask to hide our invisible selves from others who are invisible as well. We always have to be seen and we would always have to see. The necessity and arrogance of this visual game ensures that we all become aware of ourselves; it proves we exist. Yet what is lost in this play is the reality of the irreducible self as it gives way to being allowed to be understood, seen and therefore comprehended. I, too, somehow see myself as well in bits and pieces, by aspects and characteristics which I only am able to understand via comparison with others. I then form an image of myself which was gathered from all my different selves. Then I proclaim in jubilation that I know myself. This is why people become all of a sudden pompously confident. They are able to hide behind a role which they play perfectly so much that the actor becomes the role and the person becomes nothing more than that.

Some would call that identity between the person and the role success. But it is also called the death of the invisible self.


Popular posts from this blog

The Fields of Amorsolo

The first National Artist in Philippine history, referred to warmly as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art,” Fernando Amorsolo (1892–1972) still stands today as a looming figure in Philippine art responsible for being one of the artists who helped define what we up to now visually imagine as essentially Filipino. The images of rural life, of golden fields below clear blue, blue skies; the smiles of farmers which diminish their weariness as they plant, harvest, and winnow rice;most especially the iconic figure of the Filipina maiden working in the fields—the beloved dalagang bukid--; these, I believe, even after generations of Filipino painters since Amorsolo, have remained in our hearts and memory. Amorsolo did what great masters do for their country: bestow upon it its own icons, represent its native beauty, that is, to give its people and lands an identity and a face. There are, however, as many intentions for art as there are works of art. And these intentions will always remain in…

[Payapang Daigdig]

Written by Pat Nogoy, S.J.

Payapang Daigdig Felipe de Leon, Sr. 
Ang gabi'y payapa Lahat ay tahimik  Pati mga tala      Sa bughaw na langit 

Kay hinhin ng hangin Waring umiibig          Sa kapayapaan          Ng buong daigdig     
Payapang panahon    Ay diwa ng buhay Biyaya ng Diyos       Sa sangkatauhan
Ang gabi'y payapa Lahat ay tahimik Pati mga tala Sa bughaw na langit  
Pati mga tala           Sa bughaw na langit

The gift delivers Being/being Jean Luc Marion

There is something about the night.
The blanket of darkness hovering the other half of the day sparks ambivalence. Everything is the same in darkness—fear, joy, pain, triumph, doubt, glory, sorrow. Identities recede unto the vast anonymity. There is a pervading anxiety where existence slips into nothingness. One is never certain what to make out of darkness; maybe that is why the night shakes us because we never know. One cannot avoid imagining a something that is greater, higher, mightier, (even sinister) that lurks (hence the power of ghos…

A Love Sooner than Later

BROWN PENNY William Butler YeatsI whispered, 'I am too young,' And then, 'I am old enough'; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. 'Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair.' Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. O love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon.

One cannot begin to love too soon--conversely, one should not love too late or in life's demise. That waiting for the "right time," or the "right person" to love, what are these but the cries or sighs of an unready, even tired, heart? One becomes ready only when one begins to understand love slowly (or again), and one understands love progressively when one, simply, performs the act of love. Love, like mos…