January 6, 2008 at 5:20 AMIt's funny how you move (far) away from home and hope that maybe, just maybe, you can go out without having had a shower for groceries, or wear your gym pants to school or something completely awful like that and you feel like you should be able to do so without panicking about running into people you know. At school, it's obvious you're going to see people you know, but we are all in the same boat and a lot of people just dress casually and comfortably and don't stress about having everything be in place. Then what happens? You're en-route back, eating meatballs in Ikea after having slept on and off the preceding hours, and feeling less than glamorous and what should happen? You see one of your former students parents and quickly feel the need to hide behind that bright red sofa to your left and quickly mess up your hair, making it cover your eyes and then you slowly pass the individual trying not to look suspicious as bump into the nearby dining room display sending the vase with fake flowers flying. It's embarrassing but at least you managed to keep your identity a secret and it only cost the $45 for the crystal vase and fake flowers.
Ok, ok... so that is a gross exaggeration of something that actually seems to happen quite commonly. So my question is, why should I care so much to avoid a possible interaction with someone I know and actually like? Yes, I felt (and pretty much looked!) like I had just got out of bed but why should that matter? So, I thought, and thunk some more. A couple of other things happened in the next 24 hours and my thoughts remained far away from fake flowers.
So question number two which should hopefully answer question number one - why does people's perception of us matter so much and dictate our actions and what we do? And why is it that those guidelines we set for ourselves of perception - both visual and verbal - can vary so much from one person to the next? And is it wrong to follow/use those unconsciously (or maybe they are conscious?) guidelines we've put in place for ourselves? I guess another question stems from all of this too. Are you really being yourself when you're with other people or are you being what they want you to be or maybe you're playing a reverse role and challenging that person on every point. But aside from that....are you truly being you or are you just syphoning out things and showing an edited, proofread version of yourself to your audience so that you are able to least offend those around you and not create controversy? Are you doing what you are doing because you want to be doing it or are you doing it because someone else suggested or recommended it?
Lots of questions! Like it or not, if you examine yourself and your day to day activities, it's almost a 100% guarantee that you can find in some area something that you do that has not been a conscious decision on your own part but instead has been something that has been stipulated by the society in which you function.
Take for instance when someone asks you a question about their hair or clothes or something as mundane as "did you have fun at my party last night?". What if you didn't have fun? Are you going to say "actually, I really didn't enjoy your party." ? I highly doubt you would, I wouldn't. But maybe you should?
Some food for thought anyways.....
I'm fine in my tux as much as my work-duds with people--always have been.... And because I was socialized very (maybe too) early, frankly my dear--well you get the picture.
When one is an old person, it becomes clear that the one or two people who were really all that over a life-time have already done their bartering with St. Peter, so....
My answer to the question is: both but depends on what occasions.
Just because you sometimes don’t want other to see certain aspects of your being doesn’t mean your action is always constrained by the view of others; it could simply be something to do with your need for self-expression – it’s about you and what you want to project to the world.
As usual, my unconventional approach to this sort of issue may not work for others but has brought me with certain clarity and internal consistency.
To me, the question should be treated separately:
a) What kind of image of myself I want to present to the world? This consideration is all about my self-expression but not the perceptions of the others. The basic rationale behind is that I don’t know what it is really like for others to perceive and I don’t believe I can generalize it based on my perceived cultural norm, given things are so varied from group to group and we are living in such a diverse society. So when it comes to present myself (especially) physically, I do what I like for the occasion and I kind of leave other people’s perception out of my consideration.
b) What kind of picture I want to contribute to the world and other people? This consideration comes in when I show people my work, to hear my music and even to see my home or garden, and sometimes, me in a characteristic rather than physical way. The chief consideration to it is still not about other people’s perception for the similar reason stated above, but it is more about what I think is worth presenting. If I believe it’s ugly, then it shouldn’t exist. If it’s unsightly to me but does exist, then don’t show people if I can help it. The rationale behind this is that I shouldn’t show the world something I don’t believe that is worth looking at, regardless what other thinks (some may consider something incredibly beautiful while I take to be ugly).
c) What kind of image is required of me to present to achieve a specific goal? This consideration arises when my goal is something beyond the appearance/presentation but the latter is highly conducive to the success or failure of the goal. In such case, my audience’s perception becomes highly relevant so I have to get a reality check to actually figure out what, not merely based on the assumptions, what is likely expected of me.
So, the answer is not either you do what you want or conform to the social norm in everything you do, but it has to be decided on case-by-case basis. While we certainly shouldn’t try to present ourselves simply based our assumption of what other might want to see, but we are not losing our authenticity if we care what we look in the public, rather quite far from it, if we do so for the reason to satisfy our own pleasure and that we don’t bring other people’s perception into picture when we do so. The bottom-line is this, without first having some clear idea the extent to which what our audience like to see, all the considerations of pleasing others are futile, but to understand what particular audience deserve to see what they want to see at a particular moment is really a whole subject to itself.
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