We are all actors, folks

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  • Every waking hour we are in character, playing one role or the other

Whether you memorise the dialogues or improvise on the spot, you are playing yourself. Whether you are the bad, evil villain or the beloved, caring hero, you have an audience in mind. Whether you consider yourself a monster without a plan or convince the masses that you are their messiah with a road map, you are a character with a script in his mind, a role in the scheme and a part in the whole.

Drama, films, theatre, and other forms of visual art depict aspects of life for an audience. The fantasies, the facts, the inner demons, the outer expressions, the frustrations, the urge to climb up the summit and conquer the world are all we humans feel, think and act out. We all, dear folks, are actors playing different roles, different parts, dancing to different tunes at all times.

Ours is a world where rabid individualism triumphs all other considerations, the rise and rise of populism, siege mentality and ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mindset point out towards a wide gulf between an individual’s aspirations and power of the collective will.

Ours is a world where rabid individualism triumphs all other considerations, the rise and rise of populism, siege mentality and ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mindset point out towards a wide gulf between an individual’s aspirations and power of the collective will

Amidst it all, we have our public selves and our private existences. We may support a particular political party, show disdain for a particular ethnicity, religious minority or school of thought, be religious minded or secular, and have a particular take on any and every social, political and economic issues. This, dear folks, is how we roam around in society. We aim to project ourselves the way we want to be perceived and viewed by others.

We wear our public selves in presence of our friends, colleagues, by-passers and strangers. We may joke, be blatantly truthful, feel uninhibited and behave with wanton abandon still we are conscious of our audience, our dialogues, their impact and how they’ll affect us in both the short-term and long-term.

The authentic self, the real self dwells deep within the recesses of the mind and plays itself in your head or when we are certain that we are alone and there is not a single observer in sight. Then and only then, we are ourselves. At all other times, we act to amuse our friends, thrill our listeners, scare our rivals, appease our adversaries, question our convictions, and answer someone’s doubt.

Philip Larkin, the British poet, while writing to his lady was baffled by the same dilemma. He wrote, “I sometimes wonder, if anyone can do anything for anyone.” The question that gnaws at our conscious is when we don’t know how to tell apart the person and the actor, how can we do anything for them. We all have a private world of woes, where we fight alone the demons in our head and heart. Close people like our friends, our family may believe they can help us, they try to assist us too. Some throw ropes to save us from ourselves, others lower the ladders to get us out of the pit hole we are in.

We learn, sometimes really soon other times late in our lives, that when we are at war with ourselves, we have to fight alone. No other person can or will fight this battle waged in the deep crevices of our mind. Our private miseries, our deepest fears, our scars from the past, our buried secrets, deeds we rue, acts we regret haunt us in our silent hours.

Erving Goffman, a leading Canadian-American Social psychologist, in his magnum opus ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ sheds light on similarities between a theatre production and how individuals behave and act in social situations. It is pertinent to give some excerpts from his work to make it more clear how he drew comparison between individual living in society to an actor playing his role on stage

‘And to the degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others.’ he wrote.

Goffman also points out the inherent lack of mystery and absence of some grand theme behind our acts in these words:’ We have then, a basic social coin. With awe on one side and shame on the other. The audience senses secret mysteries and powers behind the performance, and the performer senses that his chief secrets are petty ones. As countless folktales and initiation rites show, often the real secret behind the mystery is that there really is no mystery; the real problem is to prevent the audience from learning this too.’

One of the toughest things to balance are our mercurial, whimsical selves and the demands of our society to project ourselves as rational, logical and coherent wholes. Goffman sees this and expresses it in the following words, “the expressive coherence that is required in performances points out a crucial discrepancy between our all-too-human selves and our socialized selves. As human beings we are presumably creatures of variable impulse with moods and energies that change from one moment to the next. As characters put on for an audience, however, we must not be subject to ups or downs. A certain bureaucratization of the spirit is expected so that we can be relied upon to give a perfectly homogenous performance at every appointed time.”