Dear Drama Observers,
“Every generation is invaded by barbarians,” wrote twentieth century philosopher Hannah Arendt. “We call them children.”
If you’ve been reading The Drama Review for any length of time, you’re no doubt aware that I really like that quote. We start out in life as little bulls in china shops, knocking things down and wreaking havoc in the pursuit of instant gratification. We want what we want when we want it, and we cry until we get it.
But as we grow older, we discover that the barbarities of childhood must be left behind if we are to function well as adults. Society runs most civilly when we as grown-ups restrain our impulses, tame our beastly selves, and let fly what Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels.”
One such constraint on barbarism is hypocrisy avoidance. Being called a hypocrite is so unpleasant that we’ll restrain our hypocritical tendencies if, for no other reason, to sidestep the pain of public scorn. One of the surest ways to discredit a person and knock them off their pedestal of respect is to point out some incongruence between their words and actions. So, we’ll strive for consistency so as not to be adorned with the modern-day Scarlett “H” of hypocrisy.
And yet, we’re all hypocritical at times, are we not? We’ll cluck to our friends about someone’s weight gain while eating a piece of chocolate cake. We’ll extol the virtues of exercise but never go to the gym. We’ll preach fiscal responsibility while running up our credit cards. In these and countless other ways, we’re consistently inconsistent. Hypocrisy, it seems, is a part of human nature—our barbaric selves.
While hypocrisy is common to us all, there’s a difference between how Normal People and Drama People respond to that tendency.
The Normal Person’s Response to Hypocritical Impulses
Normal People are personally bothered by saying one thing and doing another. They’re embarrassed when the incongruence between their public and private selves is brought to light. Consequently, they strive for authenticity and eschew being fakes, phonies, or imposters. They fight their human nature inclinations to obscure their real selves behind some falsified version. Normal People consider it a high compliment for someone to say, “I know him well and he is who he appears to be.”
That said, we Normals are still capable of turning a blind eye to our own hypocrisies or shielding them from public view. But the concealment is usually accompanied by a gnawing discomfort that only finds relief, sooner or later, through the analgesic of authenticity. Normal People believe—though perhaps reluctantly—in the maxim: “Truth is our best ally.”
The Drama Person’s Response to Hypocritical Impulses
But Drama People see truth as their greatest threat. They indulge the hypocritical inclination because impostering (note: I think I just made that word up) is how they get through life. For differing reasons depending on the individual, they’ve never developed the security to be real, so they hide behind a mimicked reality. They figure out what the circumstances require and act as though they are what they’re not.
They’re like the guy we all knew in English class who didn’t read the book and, when called on by the teacher to discuss it, he spouts off a bunch of mish mash that had nothing to do with the book, hoping to conceal the fact that he never read it. And if the ploy succeeds, he’s gratified, not ashamed.
When Others Believe Hypocrisy
Sometimes, the ploy does succeed, and the teacher believes the ruse—even though the guy’s classmates see right through it. Some Drama People are such good actors that others are easily taken in by the performance. Imagine being a student sitting next to this Eddie Haskell-like classmate as he dishes out obvious claptrap while the teacher extols his brilliant analysis. She has zero awareness of the fact that her mental pocket has just been picked.
The frustration is further compounded when the hoodwink is pointed out, but the dupe continues to believe it. It’d be like students pulling the teacher aside to say, “We know for a fact he didn’t read that book, and he’s just pulling your leg,” and the teacher scolds them for criticizing their classmate. At that point, she becomes an unwitting participant in the hypocrisy—a useful idiot in the Drama Person’s cause. The cause being to keep the private reality obscured behind the public face.
I talk to lots of people dealing with the detrimental effects of being sucked into dramas. One of their biggest frustrations is when they clearly see the Drama Person’s hypocrisy, but others who should see it don’t. And no amount of explanation has an eye-opening effect.
When you’re in a drama observing the hypocrisy that others fail to see, the frustration level experienced is stratospheric.
“It’s easier to fool people,” mused Mark Twain, “than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
Till next week.