Tuesday, January 28, 2014

O Da Wo Da Wit Da Weeus

My family intentionally misquotes a certain line from a Robert Burns poem. The poem is called "To a Louse", and the line is:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us! 

My family says it this way:

O da wo da wit da weeus
See ourselves as others see us.

(Or, abbreviated, it just becomes the first line.) The line, of course, speaks to the unwise nature of putting on airs, and references a girl who is completely unaware that there's a louse on her fancy bonnet. Whenever we notice someone being obtusely lacking in self awareness, we shake our heads and tut. "O da wo da wit da weeus."

Of course, it makes me wonder, how often is that person me? I think of myself as self aware, but in my experience, most people seem to think that of themselves, and many are mistaken. There are zillions of versions of the "how I think I look/ how I really look" meme. 

I'm thinking about this today because an acquaintance of mine posted an article on social media last night that she considers representative of her personality. I was astonished. It didn't even come close to how I perceive her, and even when I tried tipping my head sideways and squinting, I still couldn't see it.

I think this goes along with what I've been thinking about lately, with classifications, labels, and the boxes in which we put ourselves and others. Maybe part of it stems from a need to belong to a group, and maybe it's a desire to be more that we are. If I say I'm a Tiger Mom, when clearly I am not, does that speak to my yen to push my children into higher achievement? Is it a case of "fake it til you make it", or pure pretension? And anyway, where is the line between those two?

Here's what I think. Young adults tend to say "I'm an adult." Elementary kids declare, "I'm a big kid!". In the same way, insecure moms feel the need to stand on a figurative chair and announce their mom philosophy to whomever might be interested. Most of the time, when a person feels the need to have everyone affirm whatever it is he or she believes about him or herself, it's because they don't truly believe it in the first place. 

Not that I'm throwing stones. I often feel like I'm on the verge of being discovered as a phony. Doesn't everyone? In a way, we all put on a persona every time we leave the house, don't we? I'm a pretty transparent person on the whole, but there's still that moment of panic when I'm asked to explain my point of view, or stretch my professional abilities, or meet a new person.

Aside from opening oneself up to sometimes brutal criticism, how does one go about seeing what others see? I find myself asking those to whom I'm close: "Do I do that? Do I come across like that? Would you tell me if I did that?"

What about you? Does it matter to you how others see you? Do you know whether your own self image is accurate? Do you care?


Lissa Johnston said...

The realization of how others perceive us is a little terrifying. Like offering your work to your critique group. You just brace yourself and try to take the input gracefully. Then you evaluate it objectively (if possible) even though it may sting. Some of it you agree with. Some of it is completely whack-a-doodle and says more about the source than you. But sometimes you get input that never would have occurred to you, that you may disagree with, but that somehow makes a certain sense. Those are my favorites: honest, alternate perspectives.

amy said...

Lissa, I always appreciate your thoughtful responses. And I agree, honest alternate perspectives are very helpful.