“O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
- Robert Burns, “To a Louse”
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful
about what we pretend to be.”
- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
Zoom still confuses me. In a group set on gallery view, if we all lean left with the right arm raised, the screen shows me leaning the opposite way from everyone else. Apparently Zoom shows me in mirror image and the rest as if they’re facing me in a photo. Which gives a truer picture, the mirror or the photograph?
It’s human to care how others view us. This can reinforce community norms. On the other hand, it’s unhealthy to care too much. Aware and conscious may be synonyms, but self-awareness becomes a liability when it sinks into self-consciousness.
Then there’s the fake persona, the image projected in order to disguise the true self. That’s great when Julie Andrews whistles a happy tune in The King and I to suppress her fear. Not so great when it’s you or me unable to establish honest ties.
Some people seem to value image so highly it obliterates any separate sense of self. Nothing fake about it. Photo ops are all that matters. A recent mass shooter was said to have nurtured an idealized image of mass shooters online and shaped himself in that image.
How do you want to be remembered? What do you want carved in your gravestone? Personally, I’d rather forget all that in favor of connecting with the individual in front of me. How others see me is their business.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.