It would be very interesting, I think, to hire a private detective to find out about yourself. Disappear for a month, say, and then have the detective show up and question your friends, employer, landlord, and so forth, under the guise of trying to locate you.
After all, we are as we think of ourselves to only one person. To the rest of the world, we are as we outwardly seem - exactly the view we usually know least about. You could ask your acquaintances, of course, but other people are usually very reluctant to speak candidly out of politeness and self- interest. Besides, I doubt whether, even with full intention of being honest and complete, anyone could talk about you to your face as they would to someone else. Context, context...
Maybe most people would rather not know what others think of them. I suppose they probably wouldn't. Risk avoidance is a leading principle of the acceptor majority, after all, and who knows what you might find out? If a person is dull or rude, if they talk too much or too loudly, they usually have some suspicion *somewhere* in their minds of it, no matter how rarely acknowledged. Why bother having it put bluntly in front of your face?
I know as well that some would say that what other people think is unimportant. You can't control the reactions of outsiders, so it ought not to be of any concern. If you did try to control it, you would only end up leading a false life, and the likely visibility of your efforts would only end up defeating them. Be yourself and all that.
That's fine as far as it goes. But what IS your self? I submit that it has a lot more to do with your character in the general soap opera than it does with the hero of your ongoing autobiography. Not to mention the pernicious effects of 20 years of this i'm-OK-you're-nada mentality: the near complete lack of civility, the political selfishness, the way that many people act as if no one but themselves and their immediate friends even existed at all. Talking in movie theaters - what is this country coming to, I ask you? Damn this gout.
Oh, sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the public self. Everyone already DOES try to control how they are seen by others, or at least very nearly everyone. They say what they think they should say to accomplish what they have in mind. No evil intent is meant to be suggested here. The goal could be reassurance or friendship as easily as deception. But message sent is not message received. I may be trying to be witty and come across as pompously foolish. You may try to go unnoticed and always attract attention of which you are completely unaware.
If you could discover the picture that ten of your friends have of you, I think you'd find that those pictures have much more in common with each other than any do with your own self-portrait. We are social animals and our place in the herd is a vital determinant of the shape and quality of our lives. Admittedly, in large cities it's easy to be relatively invisible; but even then, even if you mostly kept to yourself and had few friends, you'd be surprised how many people had some notion of who you are and had formed a quick sketch of your nature. First impressions are an evolved and deeply imprinted survival skill.
You might say that such impressions would only be caricatures, based mostly on stereotypes - they wouldn't be "true". Of course you'd be right in a sense. That's the function of stereotypes, to allow quick assessments of strangers as a prerequisite for deciding how to deal with them, our built-in friend-or-foe system. No one said there was anything fair or just about it. But as to it not being "true"... Good old Pilate raises his head again. What is truth? To the extent that someone makes a guess about how you spend your time, what your background is, and other factual things, yes, those guesses can be incorrect.
But if someone thinks you're a mousey little thing, then to them that's exactly what you ARE - until you do something to cause them to think otherwise. That's why the assessment of people who know you with some regularity would be the most interesting. They've probably seen the range of your behaviors, and if you were to do something to surprise them, it would probably be something of a shock to yourself at the time as well.
The most disappointing result of an investigation, of course, would be to uncover only what you might have guessed would be the case, with no surprises - to seem to be just what you think you seem to be. How dull, unless you're one of the lucky few that is quite content with yourself as you are, along with a well-developed idea of who that is. Or perhaps worse, to find that no one has very much to say at all. To know people and still be unknown to them, not because of any mysterious quality but only because there never seemed to them to be very much to know - it would be like hardly existing at all.
Maybe it's NOT such a good idea. Cluck, cluck.
28 April, 1994