I have always been fascinated by the malleability of human kind. I am not referring to our adaptability to situations and environments but to the more troubling definition of the word. I am calling attention to our overwhelming penchant towards conformity and consequentially, misrepresentation. It seems that we are all overpowered by an irrepressible desire to be accepted, even if it means losing sight of who we are and instead, being revered for who we are not. We are so afraid to be ourselves that we would rather be a complete stranger, as long as that stranger is socially acceptable. That being said, we cannot be blamed, as individuals for having this proclivity towards approbation. Almost all of us are guilty of putting on fronts. We do this for a number of reasons.
The first is, of course, to comply with the unrealistic guidelines set forth by the society in which we live. From a young age, the societal pressure thrust upon us is exacting. We are told to "be ourselves". Yet, from the moment we are old enough to harbour social interactions, everything we do, say and even the way we look and dress are subject to harsh scrutiny. We are unknowingly being molded.
The truth is that we are never truly meant to be who we are, at least not out loud. Those same people, those teachers instructing us to be ourselves are the very ones enforcing the importance of abiding by pre-set societal prototypes. They are essentially conditioning us to fit cookie-cutter societal molds. We must behave a certain way in order to be rewarded and deemed "good". Any deviation from these pre-approved templates renders us unsatisfactory, problematic, out of control. We therefore spend our school age years living under the conviction that fitting in is of unparalleled importance. We modify our actions, words and our physical appearances in hopes of fitting the status quo and ultimately, being accepted. Essentially, a fear of being different is inculcated in us. This aversion paralyzes us into submission, where most of us remain for the rest of our lives.
These schemas are only further reinforced by the heavy influence of carefully-crafted media indoctrination that is eerily, progressively omnipresent in our lives. We cannot be blamed for feeling pressured to modify ourselves when we are constantly bombarded by images of fabricated realities and unattainable ideals, incessant reminders of our shortcomings. Of course, we continue to alter ourselves. We continue to strive for these implausible goals, always falling short. It is in no way a surprise that self-concealment is an increasingly recurring theme in a society laden with this type of pressure. Regrettably, the ultimate goal of being completely and totally accepted is out of reach. In fact, most of us, will spend the majority our lives feeling inadequate due to our inability to satisfy all facets of these idyllic paradigms.
The second is fear. The fear of being vulnerable. Like physical masks, our figurative ones serve in concealing those aspects of ourselves that we wish to hide from the world. Our façades present us with an invaluable opportunity for self-protection. They act as multi-purpose safety blankets, shielding us from a merciless world of quixotic expectations and unremitting judgment. Hiding behind false projections imparts us with a certain level of refuge, or so we think. We are scared of projecting weakness so we falsely portray ourselves as strong, indomitable beings, void of emotions and fears. We behave in a way that will ultimately lead others to believe that we are unshakeable, that they cannot perforate our rigid shell.
Unfortunately, by doing this, we are repressing the very nature of our being, those aspects that make us who we are. It is the vulnerability of emotion that makes us beautiful, that makes us human, that makes us real. I suppose that we simply edit our reality in order to portray a more powerful image, one that others will respect and admire. In a world dominated by hierarchical oligarchies, I suppose we are simply trying to make our mark. To make our way to the top by asserting our own power and dominance. Perhaps masking the elements of our inner being that render us fragile, allows us to assume a more presiding position among our peers. If we examine our behaviour more carefully, it is evident that this longing for respect and authority is essentially synonymous with our insatiable desire for acceptance. Being perceived as strong and powerful by those around us provides us with the gratification we so desperately seek in order to feel adequate in the cut-throat society in which we live. It is truly disconcerting that we feel that we must obscure our weaknesses in order to obtain the praise and respect that we believe will ultimately lead to acceptance. It could be that when we focus on receiving acceptance from others, we forego the need to accept ourselves, which is a task too difficult for most of us to face. This brings me to the final reason we misrepresent ourselves.
The last is a different type of fear. It is, in my opinion, the most consuming and debilitating of all. The fear of facing ourselves. Our true selves. Despite the difficulty that we encounter when searching for acceptance from others, it is infinitely more difficult to accept oneself. I think that most of us can agree that the saying “you are your own worst critic” holds a great deal of veracity. So then, we must accept that the façades we put on are not just put in place to fool others but to fool ourselves, as well.
I guess the biggest question is: What are we so afraid of? Perhaps we fear the realization that the ideal that we so desperately strive to become is but an illusion. It could be that we know that our true selves are not as readily acceptable as our carefully crafted editions. Or maybe we fear the unknown. It is possible that we are afraid of what we may find beyond the realm of fairytales and fake smiles. When the masks are stripped away, we are left face to face with who we truly are. The smoke and mirrors are no longer there to distort our perceptions. It can be bewildering if the person looking back at us is not one we are proud of.
All things considered, it is easy to understand why we pretend. We would rather trick ourselves and run from the things within us that are too ugly or too difficult to face than tackle them head on. So, we continue the charade, for society and for ourselves. Again, all in hopes of obtaining the one thing we seek above all else; acceptance.
Let’s come to terms with the fact that we are not the faultless characters that we so hopelessly strive to become. Let’s come to terms with the fact that we never will be. Let’s stop lying, stop pretending, stop running. Let’s start accepting each other. Let’s start accepting ourselves. Let’s stop fueling the fire by buying into society’s ridiculous standards of what we should be. Let’s eradicate the judgment and the expectations that perpetuate the vicious circle forcing us into self-denial. Let’s free ourselves and each other from the prison that is the incessant longing for unattainable ideals. Let’s do it for ourselves. Let’s do it for each other. Let’s do it for the impressionable youth growing up with self-image issues perpetuated by society’s disapproval of imperfection. Let’s do it for those who need to know that who they are is more than good enough.
Let’s be the kind of people who don’t need deception and trickery to win others over because the goodness in our hearts speaks for itself. Let’s be the kind of people who do not need to run from themselves because they are proud of the person looking back at them in the mirror. Let’s be who we are. Let’s be honest. Let's be true. Let's be the acceptance we have sought for so long.
Wynwood Walls, Miami, FL, January 2015.