Glocal Matters brings empathy-building workshops, lectures, and other resources to individuals, organizations, and institutions. Our integrative approach introduces mask work (mask making and mask donning) into conflict-centered environments. Masks have existed throughout the world for millennia, yet their meaning volleys between the local and global. Similarly, gaining mastery over highly-charged emotions, such as anger and aggression, requires personal and collective dynamics be balanced. Put differently: honing in on what is deeply local—itself a world in miniature—increases our potential to be thoughtful global citizens. Our research library consists of approximately 2,000 books and ephemera on aesthetics, emotions, and religion in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.
In order to understand empathy, we must first recognize its three forms—cognitive, emotional, and compassionate (Ekman; Goleman)—all of which can be learned and utilized in our daily lives. We seem hardwired to not only empathize, but to act on behalf of a loved one, be it a parent, spouse, mate, child, or close friend. Emotions researcher Paul Ekman describes this heightened form as ‘compassionate empathy.’ Such feelings may also extend to our neighbors and communities. However, as physical distance increases, our impulse to act is often diffused. Whether our goal is to improve communication within our family, with domestic and international colleagues, or to change the culture of bullying around us, it is imperative to consider the interplay between the local and global.
What is Bullying?
The Workplace Bullying Institute [WBI] defines bullying that occurs at one’s workplace as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.”
While this definition specifically addresses workplace bullying, its tenets can be applied to many other environments. Uniting them is that the targeted individual is considered ‘different’: she or he may speak with an accent or their gender is atypical in their field, e.g. a male secretary, a female engineer, etc. Older, and/or racially or ethnically different students are also more likely to be targeted. Of course, not every person who fits this definition will be singled out. However, this likelihood increases when ‘difference’ is combined with average to above-average job performance and/or being considered an ‘outside-the-box’ thinker (Westhues). Mavericks of all stripes are often viewed as threats to the conventional social order. Yet, interestingly, where bullying and mobbing occur in the hyper-competitive world of academia, the bully may covet the intellectual property of their target, even claiming it as their own.
When a bully teams up with a at least one other person (usually a colleague or contemporary) against the same target, it is called ‘mobbing,’ whose combined networks and contacts ensure even greater damage to their target. Targets lacking emotional support may become bullies themselves and it is not uncommon for them to develop serious health problems over time (Westhues).
Harassment is as cruel as it is complex. Glocal Matters takes a hands-on approach to recognizing, activating, and overcoming aggressive behavior and passivity by turning to the oldest, most enduring way of knowing the “Other”: the mask.
HOW IS WORKING WITH MASKS THERAPEUTIC?
Carl Jung referred to the human face we show to the world as the persona, in reference to the name of a mask from the Greek theatre. He envisioned the persona as a self-created protective system that bridges the individual's inner life with the realities of the day. The flip side of the persona, Jung referred to as the shadow, in reference to the hidden, repressed parts the individual shields from public scrutiny. The persona/shadow dyad is, in fact, realized in the construction of the mask, whose visible side is intended solely for the spectator, while only its inner, hidden face makes direct contact with its wearer. In addition to the ability of the face to create roughly 3,000 expressions pertaining solely to emotions, seeing, smelling, tasting, and hearing all happen here as well. Not surprisingly, when the facial orifices are covered, the sensory experience of, for example, smell may be heightened, while that of vision is compromised. In addition to the loss of speech, emotions are fluid and may be transferred to other body parts. Native healers, actors, and others who work with masks often describe cognitive disruption, lack of inhibition, and displaced feeling behind them. These same changes that actors, for instance, may consider an unfortunate distraction, in a therapeutic situation makes a non-linguistic, visceral and inhibition-free experience that can later be discussed in talk therapy sessions possible. Embodiment, then, is key to manufacturing, sustaining, and delivering emotion in verbal and non-verbal ways. Not surprisingly, this bi-directional activity not only releases mind-body tension in the wearer; it is sympathetically activated in observers as well.
Mask making and mask use exercise our empathic capacities—for both the occupant and the onlooker. Some psychotherapists and art therapists, recognizing this, have introduced mask making into their clinical work in recent years. Here, the client or patient creates their own mask. In doing so, they memorialize a trauma or difficult situation she or he is working through. Powerful, even profound, representations of the self often materialize through this process, which patients with traumatic brain injuries, for example, may otherwise be unable to articulate. Much like any work of art that generates discussion, this is often the primary goal: a mask is considered complete when it is fully crafted and their makers’ stories experienced and expressed, visually and verbally. As art therapist, Melissa Walker, of The National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) puts it:
“Creating a mask allows the service member to explore his or her identity and begin to assimilate their experiences and feelings into the self. After completing an art product that has personal meaning, the service member can begin to process the symbolism with the art therapist and perhaps open up about content he/she couldn’t discuss with anyone before. In an integrative treatment setting, this benefits the treatment team as they receive an alternative and visual snapshot of the service member’s concerns and can assist the clinicians engaging in talk therapy.”
Glocal Matters takes this process one step further. Utilizing both our expressive mask collection and those made by clients, our corrective approach integrates the visual aspect of creating an object with its embodied experience.
Where does it work?
Our workshops facilitate outreach and leadership in the classroom and wherever else people interact and emotions run high. In addition to the workplace, schools, and academic institutions, exercises with masks can assist rescue workers and volunteers with quickly identifying panic and distress among natural disaster and terrorism survivors. These same workers may also have a delayed traumatic response to the same experience. Masks can also be efficacious in developing empathy between incarcerated youth, their guards, and administrators. Indeed, masks and roleplaying benefit individuals in many restrictive environments mutually informed by anxiety and distrust.