Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Value of Appearances

If you're looking for good advice about how to bear up in the current financial crisis, one excellent counsel is to keep up appearances.

According to Benedict Carey's article, "When All You Have Left is Your Pride," keeping up appearances will allow you to maintain your pride and self-respect in time of trouble. Link here.

Carey opens with this reflection: "Look around you. On the train platform, at the bus stop, in the car pool lane: these days someone there is probably faking it, maintaining a job routine without having a job to go to."

Many therapists, and the therapy culture at large, would denounce these people as: "shallow and deceitful, the very embodiment of denial."

Yet, as Carey reports, other psychologists have discovered that keeping up appearances "sustains good habits and reflects personal pride." Besides, he adds, it is "an extremely effective social strategy, especially in uncertain times."

Ask yourself this: if you are in despair about being laid off, is it better to stay home and sulk or to dress up and go out as though you are still actively involved in the real world?

Keep in mind that the former is a true expression of your inner feelings. Anyone who follows the mantra to express his feelings fully will stay in bed.

Admittedly, the person who gets up, gets dressed, and goes out into the world is faking it. Yet, that is the path back to work. The alternative is the path to depression.

Carey is right to emphasize that a proud demeanor does not just help to manage others' impressions of you; it also produces good feelings.

An insincere smile will do more for your mood than a sincere scowl.

Too often, therapy has missed this point. It has been wedded to an inside/out approach to problems, and has looked contemptuously at the alternative outside/in approach.

Therapy has assumed that if you rearrange your mental furniture you will automatically do the right thing.

As I have noted before, knowing why you have gotten things wrong does not tell you how to get them right.

When we do the right thing, most often it is not because a thought has welled up from the depths of our soul and expressed itself in action.

We learn to do the right thing by emulating our betters or by taking advice.

If you do the right thing often enough, eventually it will feel sincere. But, just as you should keep up appearances even when it feels fake, you should do the right thing even when it does not feel right, and even when it was someone else's idea.

If you want to build character, it is better to pretend that you have it than to prove that you don't.

1 comment:

ppearlman said...

i remember when i was in graduate school i read a book called 'cool pose' which posited that many male adolescent african americans wore a mask of hypermasculinity as a defensive means of protecting themselves in a culture they perceived as threatening.

i was talking about this one day with the dean cynthia baum and she said, 'well, at what point and after what point is this a mask or the real person?'

that was a great question she asked...