Presenting our ‘self’ to other people and managing the presentation

Shakespeare described our world as a stage show. And the people who live in this world, in our society as actors. Each of us acting our assigned roles. When you drive around our society you will see Fathers taking children to the park, Teachers explaining algebra, Doctors asking patients to say aah, Politicians shaking hands and others doing their thing. Shakespeare says they are acting.[1]

“No they are not acting. They are doing their job. Some of them are paid to do so.” Ahm. That’s true. In the physical world, yes, they are doing their job. But let’s think of another world, an imaginary world, a social world. When a father takes his children to the park, this action is happening in two worlds. Physical world and Social world. In the physical world we call it funs, good times or works. But in the social world they are ‘acts’.

When father is in the park other people can see him. So he must ‘act’ correctly. In the park he has to follow physical laws such as gravity, as well as social laws such as treating the kid nicely. What will happen if he starts shouting at the kid in the park? He is breaking a social law. Nothing much will happen in the physical world. But it will damage his social self. If he doesn’t present himself and his kid in the park in an acceptable manner, he is breaking a law, he is violating the rules of the social world.

The social self from the social world lives inside other people’s mind. It changes based on what they see or hear about you in the physical world. If they see you working in the bank, your social self will become a banker. But next day police caught you robbing the bank, the social self in other mind will also change from banker to ‘robber’ or ‘criminal’.

When you are standing in front of complete strangers they will not be interested in knowing the size of your hand, or how big your feet is, but instead they will be more interested in your socio-economic status, self-worth, trustworthiness, competence etc. In short, they want to create a living and breathing imaginary self inside their mind. When you tell them about yourself they will form a description about you which they will keep in their mind as self image. Once each of them form a self image about you, you are no longer a stranger.

Ok that’s too much theory. Let’s move to action.

I said when we are in front of another person we are interacting on both physical level and social level. This social level is managed by managing the physical level. For example, two man is in the clinic, one is wearing a white long coat with rubber gloves and the other man is wearing a casual shirt and a jean. By looking at these two men, we can easily identify who is the doctor.[3]

A doctor has an image set by the society. First he got the self image from an educational institution, which again is a social structure made by a group of people. Now that he got the image, he also has a responsibility of maintaining it. How to maintain it? By treating patients, wearing proper clothing etc. I mean what will happen if you see a doctor in a gang fight on the road? Or what if he doesn’t know anything about medicine? You will say he is a fake doctor.

Like the doctor’s gloves there are things you wear that convey messages. They are called sign vehicles. Check whether your sign vehicles align with the image people have about you.

After checking the sign vehicles, you should focus on your actions. An example is a doctor smoking in front of patients and telling them smoking kills. This action will discredit his words. Same goes to the politician who talks about saving the poor during the election but does nothing when he gets elected. He will lose credibility too. You should avoid doing anything that will discredit or damage your self-image. If you really need to do it, then don’t do it in front of them. Eg. Doctor can smoke in the back room where patients cannot see him etc.

Presenting one’s self is a difficult task but one should never ignore it.

1. Shakespeare W. As you Like it Act II Scene VII Line 139…
2. Goffman E. The presentation of self in everyday life. 1978.
3. Goffman E. On face-work: An analysis of ritual elements in social interaction. Psychiatry. 1955
4. Gardner W. “Lessons in organizatoinal dramaturgy: The art of impression management.” Organizational Dynamics 1992

Original: 10-12-20
correction 17-12-20