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Seeing Yourself

The only part of the scene we leave out is ourselves.  Let me repeat that.  The only part of the scene we leave out is ourselves.   That is an essential truth we always forget.

When we look back on any event, we are doomed to see the scene from our point of view, through our eyes, and I mean physically as well as psychologically.  A more rounded picture of what happened would include our face, our gestures.  Did we smile?  Did we frown?  Exactly how did we look?  We will never know because, once again, the trite truth: we can't see ourselves.  We can't see the scene as others see it, with us in it.  It is absolutely impossible to step out of the scene and, so to speak, view it from above.  We have to see out of our eyes and therefore we never see ourselves.

Why do I go on and on in this vein?  Because I have been made acutely aware of how I don't see myself, or how I don't see my face and what it does to other people.  I've gone dancing, and the people I've encountered look at me funny and almost always say the same thing: "You aren't having too much fun Henry, are you?"

I love to dance.  I get absolutely out of my mind high when I dance -- and obviously my face shows it.  But what does my face show?  I don't know.  I will never know.

The kind of dancing I do involves switching partners often, and all the women and men who encounter me smile at me in a bizarre way.  Some burst out laughing.  Some just stare. Almost every single one smiles.  What, in my face, in my gesture, in my movements, provokes these smiles, laughs, stares.  Once again, I don't know, I will never know.

Let me get to my point.  Our face, our gestures, our movements, provoke a reaction from the world.  What you do, comes back to you.  The world cannot help but react to the face you put on to meet the faces that you meet.  But what face do you put on?   What face do I put on?  Does the face we put on create the world we inhabit.  Of course it does, but this is brilliantly clear to me in dance.

What I do, impacts those around me.  Because I am a high energy, a delighted dancer, I make others around me dance with greater delight, with greater energy.  Of course that is not true of every dancer I encounter.  Some are put off by me: they find my energy and delight too much too take.  So, too, in real life: some people can't stand how I charge into a situation. Others love the energy I bring to a situation.

But once again, back to my main point -- what you do, comes back to you.  The face you present to the world, creates the world you inhabit.  But most of the time you don't know that You are behind your face.  You can't see your face.  You can't see what your face is doing to the people you encounter.  In dance I can see and it startles me and educates me.  How I look at them determines how they look at me.


Being me is very strange.  We all know we are multiple personalities -- many kinds of people depending on the people we are in front of: we are different people with our husbands and wives than we are with our parents -- or on the job.  We are multiple people -- personalities -- but often people see in us a particular streak.  For instance, people find me bold, odd, unusual.  That seems so unlike me to me.  I don't understand why other people see me as odd and bold.  I think of myself as shy, not bold enough to speak up, and in most cases, I find my behavior ordinary, predictable.

But all this is speculation, theory, words.  Here is the scene, the situation, that elicited all these words.  I am at a dance camp in Elkins West Virginia.  I am attending a week long caller's workshop.  A very experienced caller is teaching less experienced callers to call.

I think of myself as shy, retiring, not eager to speak up and stand out.  I know there are many in our class of about a dozen who have taught dancing for far more years than I.  There are people in the class with ten years experience in calling, and some with two years: a whole range is represented here.  But I have called perhaps five full dances -- some in our class have called that many in one month.  Several in our class have called somewhere between fifty and two hundred dances.  So I do not step forward to ask questions.  I am not the first to step up to the microphone and test my skills.

But our instructor stresses "flight time"-- if you don't try to call dances in real life circumstances -- with live human beings responding to your calls you will never learn.  So I did step up to the microphone for one try the first morning -- I was one of perhaps seven of the twelve in the class -- and I did try, once again, the next morning.

I don't consider that pushy, forward.  I asked no more questions than several others -- and yet within two days, Monday and Tuesday -- I knew I was perceived as striking, forward, unafraid.

All of the second day I had to curb my instinct to contribute, to speak up, to ask a question.  Because I wanted to give others a chance to say something -- but I had questions to ask -- but I knew I must not be me -- too forward, too eager.

As one woman said who observed my behavior: "Henry, the way you walk gives a clue to your personality: you are always striding quickly, with a bent-forward-at-the-shoulders posture.  You seem to know where you want to go and you want to get there quickly."

Over the years, one does acquire a personality, a character, a reputation: I sometimes rub people the wrong way because of my intensity, and yet I do not see myself as intense.

All of this is to say: We -- you and I -- are often baffled by how others see us.  We hardly ever -- almost never -- see ourselves that way.  And it is somewhat useless to try to change who we are, since we don't think we are the person others see us as being.  So how can we change behavior -- being pushy, forward -- that we don't ever see within ourselves?

Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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