I was reminded today that what we often see with the occasional glance, or through the informal word, or while looking on a frozen moment in time captured in a photograph, only tells a small part of someone’s story.
Do you ever wonder about the people you know?
Perhaps someone you work with. You see this person daily probably, but other than the individual who sits behind the desk to the right or left of you, what do you really know about them? If your entire relationship is based upon the actions and words of someone you encounter for 8 hours per day, is that enough to really know who that very same person is at home, in their private life?
I imagine you might have some idea of individual likes and dislikes. You may be privy to some deeper expressions of emotions surrounding things like job stress or frustration. You might even have been granted glimpses into aspects of their private life – rather you wanted that information or not.
I suppose you probably assume that the person you spend so much time with each day is likely to be much the same in temperament and personality when they are at home. I think we would all assume something along those lines.
I wonder how surprised you would be to find out that the person who seems rather friendly, rather personable, rather opinionated at work, is not the same person when they are at home. I’m sure that you would doubt that the person you know and most likely enjoy being with is the polar opposite when they enter through their front door. I bet that you may even loudly claim that it couldn’t be possible, that the person you know surely wouldn’t shut down, close off, turn into a withdrawn empty shell of that individual who sits across from you.
Erving Goffman, a Canadian sociologist would most likely jump on the chance to use the individual described briefly above as an excellent example of his theories on impression management and dramaturgy.
Personally, I believe, like Goffman, that we all sustain various roles during our daily lives. We move between front and back stage and we manage what others see to suit our needs at any given time.
The next time you sit next to an acquaintance on the train, or take part in a meeting or event with someone you have known for years, or even when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with family members, I wonder if the person to your left or right – the person you think you know from personal social interactions- is the same person that others see.
I bet you might be surprised at the number and scope of the roles that they play.