False Impressions

“Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.”

Margo Forteyn, English Dancer and Ballerina

“This is close enough,” said Rick’s daughter, already reaching for the door handle.

“Just a minute,” replied Rick, pulling over his vehicle. “Let me stop the car first.”

“I hate this stupid seatbelt,” she stammered, fumbling with the broken latch.

“It’s just finicky,” said Rick, reaching over. “Here, let me get it for you.”

“I can do it myself,” she snapped. “And I hate this stupid car!”

Before Rick could say another word, his daughter was out the door and gone. He watched as she hurried down the sidewalk toward the high school. She was in a hurry as it was nearly time for the first class of the morning. That and the fact that she had asked her father to drop her off two full blocks from the school.

She had made it clear that she didn’t want to be seen getting out of Rick’s old car. Admittedly, Rick was a little hurt by the request. Yes, the car was old with a few rust patches, but it ran OK – Rick made sure of it. Maintaining a large household on his meagre income meant there was little extra for luxuries, especially a payment on a new car. It concerned Rick that his daughter seemed intent upon building relationships with the more popular girls in school – in particular, girls from affluent families. When he expressed concern to his wife, she told him to relax; it was just a phase that most teenaged girls go through.

The need to create favourable (and sometimes false) impressions can lead to heartache and further erode self-esteem that may be marginal at best. An overpowering need to be popular can become all-consuming and lead to poor life choices. It is an unfortunately common phase that teenagers do go through. Sadly, it’s not only young people who suffer from this affliction.

Right off the top, we could surmise that anyone who wants to create an impression that is less than accurate must have low self-esteem. People with healthy self-esteem, in theory, don’t need to present themselves as someone they’re not. That said, even people who feel good about themselves sometimes get caught up in creating impressions if the need is great.

In fact, certain situations require us to create the best possible impression. An interview with a potential employer might be one example. Another might be going on a first date with a love interest, while another still may be meeting a partner’s parents or family members. Anyone who has ever run for public office can attest to the importance of a positive public impression.  

But there is, of course, a vast difference between striving to accentuate the positive and attempting to create an impression that is wholly inaccurate. We must examine our motivation. If we strongly desire something from someone – acceptance, for example – we may choose to speak, act and respond in a manner that we think will create the appropriate reaction, even if we are not being genuine.

The ego often plays a role in our need to create and wear a false face. The ego is the false self and wants to be seen as important. The ego’s influence is powerful and, if left unchecked, may eventually lead to arrogance and pretentiousness through the incessant and unhealthy need to confirm one’s value as a human being by constantly comparing oneself to others. This inflated feeling of pride in our superiority to others is often rooted in the false belief that our value is determined by what we possess: the career, the house, the bank account. If we dig a little deeper, we find fear, poor self-esteem and a lack of self-awareness.

The problem with false impressions is just that: they’re false, an illusion. And what is illusion must eventually give way to reality, often creating disappointment or resistance.

Some people are convincing actors, but eventually, the curtain falls, the costumes and makeup come off, and the house lights come up. What then will the audience behold? Relationships built upon an honest presentation of self are always healthier and more enduring.

This ancient piece of wisdom has been echoed by sages down through the ages but never as eloquently as by Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night (follows) the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

As time went by, Rick’s daughter began to make further demands. If Rick was picking her up after school or following a visit with a friend, he was also to park at least two blocks away. He was never to meet the parents of her friends or introduce himself as her father.

Eventually, Rick and his wife sat down with their daughter to discuss the issue.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” she cried. “It’s hard to make friends today.”

Rick’s wife explained that no lasting friendship would be built on a false impression. She suggested that her daughter try being open and honest, maybe inviting one of the girls over to the house for a visit. Reluctant, even fearful at first, Rick’s daughter eventually acted upon her mother’s advice. Predictably, some of the girls scoffed at the request and rejected her outright when they learned of her modest existence. One girl did accept the offer and over time became a close friend. And that friendship, founded upon honesty, endures to this day.

Want to make a good impression? Make an honest one. There will be those who appreciate it and those who won’t, but the ones who do won’t be disappointed when the house lights come up.

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