I want to do a mini series (two blogposts) informed by one experience in a secondary school IT lesson. I did my first personality test during that class, which was on my own curriculum, not that of the lesson’s. Or should I say, it was prescribed to me by one girl, who wanted me and a few others to do one. I don’t remember finishing mine– it was over 25 questions long. We did, however, compare answers, because the competitive spirit got its start in school, and it was still sort of fun then.
The guidelines of the competition were: who had the leanest characteristics; who among us was the friendliest, while simultaneously being the least likely to suffer fools— who would be the honeytrap for new acquaintances when we all went to college? Who among us stayed calm under pressure— who would excel in the exams? Who was most likely to cry– who cracked under the everyday malice of school?
I remember finding it a strain to answer honestly while my screen sat bright and orbited by 30 heads. I mostly remember what I could hear, which was us placing ourselves with the most attractive answers, while guiding each other to the ugly ones. But we were 15 years old, unable to accept the idea of being undercooked, nor the realities of who we each were in relation to other people.
When I was writing last week’s blog post, it was this memory that helped me reach some sort of conclusion. Naively, I thought the day-to-day manipulation of personal information to wow others was a) a parasite of the internet age, and b) something that we all come to outgrow. A) was what I was grappling with last week. B) was what I was grappling with 10 years ago. Both are comforting lies. I should write a novella on adulthood myths. Internet performance and performance amongst peers are simply affirmations of human nature– and human nature is one golden oldy. It begs a question that I will be responding to with two separate posts: when, or rather, can life ever cease to be a performance?
This blogpost I wrote in the summer of last year doesn’t answer the question, but has something to do with the instinctive, social aspect of our performances and how they’re made unconvincing by our inner secrets. I only mention it, because it speaks to what is meant by ‘performance’ in this context– it determines that life is one big watch, and its audience is always other people. I also bring it up, because other than the work of Carl Jung that I researched for that piece, I’ve done only a small amount of formal research on this. I’ll use my own eye-opening experiences, mostly.
The other bit of research I did was on the 16-personalities test I took when I was 15, and then again when I was 19 or so, and then again a few months ago. I discovered that the test originated from a questionnaire designed to help people find jobs that most suited them during the Second World War. So, me and my friends in that IT class were unknowingly considering ourselves along the lines of functionality and productivity; personalities best capable of ‘giving out’ rather than ‘taking in’, personalities well-moulded for relating to those in close proximity (which we now all are thanks to social media). Then, I considered myself along those lines a further two times, (aged 19 and 24) which is strange, given that after school, I spent some time offstage.
I want to preface this by saying that I took myself offstage, I wilfully isolated; though when I was between the ages of 16-18, I would’ve heavily disagreed. The truth is, I was averse to friendship for those two years. I was socialising, but hardly, and social media was not yet all-encompassing. I was in that shadowy area for the extras waiting to be called upon, and the sets for future scenes. A lot of long journeys to nowhere, and some time in the library. Life ceased to be a performance for ceasing to be the kind I was used to. But being off stage was not all that pleasing. There had to be a better way.
There were some consequences of that behind the scenes work. Like a pearl growing in the belly of the clam were the internally-led ideals I was abiding by as a result; ‘authentic’, I presumed, for disregarding the reaction of an audience. It was the start of something good. But then later, those ideals had to come in line with God, who fought to be the internal thing by which all principles are inspired. That was okay, because that must be ‘the better way’– the foolproof way of staying offstage– in living for him and not for others. But it turned out to be an entirely different performance of its own, and the stage, much larger.
We’ll pick this up again next week 😉