I can tell you that, as I experience an increase in vitality and what I can only call personal power, I feel an ever-greater need to come out of my own box of conditioning, my own constructed self. And as I do, my attention turns, for the moment, to all the strutting and posturing I do, that I now feel a need to leave behind.
This reflection that I’m immersed in at the moment draws my attention to what Erving Goffman called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, the social construction of reality – and of ourselves. Please allow me to have a little fun with this.
The galactics and celestials may be experts on the higher dimensions but surely you and I are the experts on the Third Dimension, are we not?
If we don’t know how to work the ropes in our local space after all this time, I’d be surprised.
For instance, most of us know what it means to consciously strive to create an impression or run a number on someone else.
We used to watch I Love Lucy, All in the Family, or Two and a Half Men. And these matters were and are the stuff of comedy.
We satirize our politicians and other leaders. We spoof the corner grocery man. We highlight the idiosyncracies of a great musician.
Always what we’re doing is playing up an aspect of the constructed self, the box of conditioning that we pass our lives in.
Erving Goffman has a wonderful chapter in his book in which Preedy takes a swim. Preedy constructs each move for maximum effect:
“[Preedy] took care to avoid catching anyone’s eye. First of all, he had to make it clear to those potential companions of his holiday that they were of no consequence to him whatsoever. He stared through them, over them – eyes lost in space. If by chance a ball was thrown his way, he looked surprised; then let a smile of amusement lighten his face. (Kindly Preedy.) ….
“But it was time to institute a little parade, the parade of the Ideal Preedy. … [He] gathered together his beach-wrap and bag into a neat sand-resistant pile (Methodical and Sensible Preedy), rose slowly to stretch at ease his huge frame (Big-Cat Preedy), and tossed aside his sandals (Careless Preedy, after all).
“The marriage of Preedy and the sea! There were alternative rituals. The first involved the stroll that turns into a run and a dive straight into the water, thereafter smoothing into a strong splashless crawl towards the horizon. But of course not really to the horizon. Quite suddenly he would turn on his back and thrash great white splashes with his legs, somehow thus showing that he could have swum further had he wanted to, and then would stand up a quarter out of the water for all to see who it was.. …
“[An alternative ritual] involved a slow stroll down and into the edge of the water – not even noticing his toes were wet, land and water all the same to him! – with his eyes up at the sky, gravely surveying portents, invisible to others, of the weather. (Local Fisherman Preedy.)” (1)
Preedy is posing. His is a constructed act. He’s projecting an impression.
What Preedy may not be aware of us is that we’re usually invisible only to ourselves. The world might snicker at Preedy. Most can tell a poseur from a mile away. Something in our retinas is attuned to the slightest move of inauthenticity. The minute we see it, we say “Aha!”
For my money, there seems very little sense in hiding. There never has been. And now that the cabal is gone, I think it’s safe to play again. It’s safe to come out of our shells, leave our well-stocked hidey-holes, take a deep breath and just be.
And all of us, I believe, need a chance to limber up, lighten up and take ourselves less seriously.
It starts with getting honest about what we’re hiding. What is it that we dearly don’t want others to know? What is the secret we’ve built our lives around hiding? Just blurt it out. We usually feel better after.
What are we suppressing? What are we denying? What are we excusing in ourselves that we don’t excuse in others? What in us do we justify while feeling that there’s no justification for it when we see it in another?
Where are we full of hot air? What carefully-manicured impression are we trying to sell to the rest? Surprisingly, what we discovered in the Growth Movement, was that it can be enjoyable to watch one’s own self perform.
The celestials have been saying to us that it’s time to let go. Usually they mean let go of our issues and resentments. But we can also let go of that terribly-important and assiduously-cultivated impression.
I am Preedy. Oh, didn’t I tell you? Erving Goffman asked me if he could write a book about me. He said he’d change the name.
I am Preedy. I carefully position myself. I take great care to see that no embarrassing information leaks out about me. I religiously manicure my image. I pose myself just so and proceed in a carefully-calculated manner.
I’m embarrassed when I’m found out. I compensate for a spoiled image. I learn from my pratfalls and polish my image all the more carefully. Who am I?
I am Preedy. I am human.
(1) Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City: Doubleday, 1959, 5.