Monthly Archives: June 2012

Why Being “Fake” Can Be Better Than Being “Real”

I recently read a wonderful book, called Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson. He’s an accessible psychology prof who outlines in the book why self-knowledge is impossible to come by. If you want to know yourself, you need other people. And, on a note of hope for self-improvement, he argues that if you want to be a better person in any way, shape, or form, you’ve got to act the part first. In the case of self-improvement, being “fake” is not just helpful. It’s almost necessary.

His conclusion was pretty off-putting to me initially. My culture has taught me that expressing myself–my true self–is the most important thing in the world. (Dammit, it’s so important it’s divine!) My culture guides me in the worship of Myself, and constantly praises and exhorts Me in My personal decisions, regardless of their contribution or destruction to my well-being.

What I’ve recently been struck by is the assumption in all of this that I know myself. Wilson argues that I don’t and, frankly, I agree. Sometimes, I act in ways that I don’t understand. I do things i don’t really want to do. I am, truly, a stranger to myself.

This may sound cliche or sappy, but I’d argue that it’s true for everyone (it’s……UNIVERSAL!!! :O) and thus we better pay it some attention. If I don’t know Me, then maybe I should take “being true to myself” a little less seriously. If myself is an amoeba even to me, its presumable master, then maybe I should try being a little less concerned with the way I think about it (i.e. being ‘real’ and developing an ‘accurate’ concept of self) and focus more on behaving as I believe it should act (i.e. faking it and focusing on controlling my behavior, a still huge, but more modest, task).

Here’s a personal example: I want to be inclined less toward cynicism and more toward genuine kindness. To do that, I’m not going to get caught up in knowing myself, in discovering the deeply rooted cause of my cynical nature and, through some cathartic self reflection, tearing those roots from this little heart of mine. Nope. I’m gonna fake it. Because, as Wilson argues, if you want to be genuinely kind, first you’ve gotta act kind. At first, it won’t be genuine. But, if practiced long enough, it will be. I may feel like a fraud for a while, but I would rather deal with those feelings in my own private, skull-sized prison than continue being my “true” self to the potential detriment of those around me.

Something to think about!

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Dissolved

      Francisca 204B

—Which, frankly, is bullshit considering how blind we—not just you; I’m including myself in this—are to the failures of those we love. There’s no way you can just say that. You can’t. You can’t just absolve him of all blame because he buys you things and makes it clear that you’re his in public. You can’t let him get away with shit like this. But first you’ve gotta acknowledge that it’s there. He’s not being fair. Every time he sneaks behind your back and goes out with her, he’s not being fair. Every time he
—He doesn’t sneak. He tells me and I say sure.
—But don’t you see how fucked that is? He asks you. He looks you in the eyes and asks for the slow dissolution of your relationship. And, right now, you’re saying yes. You’re letting him go, and it’s not completely his fault. Until you say something, this one’s on you. And you’ve gotta say something. You can’t just let him get away with shit like this.

            Nicholi 213A

— I think it’s over…I don’t know.
— Do you think she knows that?
— …I think she knows something’s up. I’ve been hanging out with Bethany a lot this past week. We kissed. I don’t feel bad about it.
— Why do you think that is?
— Why I don’t feel bad? Shit, I don’t know. Because I don’t care anymore? I want to, but I just can’t make myself feel bad about the death of something that should have died months ago.
— How many times have you kissed?
— Who? Bethany? Maybe 4. It’s been pretty innocent.
— Do you think Francisca would say that?
— Are you serious? No.
— Well, what would she say then?
— I don’t know….she might want to end it. But I’m not sure she could bring herself to do that. I don’t know…

The counselor inched her way through Francisca and Nicholi as she made her exit down the stairs. Who was that, she said. —A friend. Oh, so you’ve got two now, she said. He asked her what she was getting at. (He thought of the bar, which was closing in an hour.) I think we need to talk, she said. A man, her friend, came out of 204B and made eyes with Francisca. The couple dissolved as he passed through. Nicholi smiled, all teeth. —Looks like I’m not the only one with friends. Will you stop, she asked. We need to talk. Now. Nicholi looked at his watch. 55 minutes. —Yeah, that’s fine. But let’s make it quick.