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On pretending
Reading lately Graham's post, made me think on the necessity of pretending in life. In Nelson's story what is striking is that while educating his son to be a good person (and with the word “good” we usually associate as well “honest”and “truthful”), he had to use a trick that involved pretending and therefore lying. He pretended to be very angry in order to make himself understood and obeyed by his child. It was just another one of those cases when being truthful is not as effective as pretending. Every day we are faced with these situations where pretending gets us much closer to what we seek than any other way.
I went on browsing some more here in thinqon, and the subject comes up in many discussions here, including how do I become more confident and the pick up artist. All these posts and testimonies show that pretending gets you far and is often more effective than being your true self. They also show the huge place of lying in everyday life, and I thought we should have a new discussion dedicated to the subject.
If pretending is so useful, why was I not taught to do it from childhood, as part of the education which is supposed to prepare me for life? Why was I taught the contrary? How do you learn and use it and what is its place and importance in our lives?
Hi Julie, great topic.

Have you seen the movie “The Libertine”? The hero- a writer/actor, is wonderfully interpreted by Johnny Depp who plays a personage that can only truly feel and truly be himself when he's in the theater. The stage is the home where he can let go of his cynicism and all the excesses in which he indulges in order to feel “alive” in his real life.

Another great movie on the subject is King Vidor's “The Patsy”. It is both very beautiful and thought provoking. The good Patsy is a girl that is all the time taken advantage of by her mother and sister. They don't let her do anything and have turned her into a sort of Cinderella. Her life changes when she decides to pretend, or as it is recommended to her “to develop a personality”, which is basically pretending to be many different personalities and characters helping her deal with each person in another manner, the one that is most effective for her to get what she needs.


Films Discussed
The Libertine
The Patsy


In response to Dana Samuel
I have some other more serious thoughts on this topic (I think) but oh my gosh, that's the funniest movie I've seen in a while.  I have to see the whole thing.  I can identify with that girl on so many levels.

I was thinking that pretending is not all that unnatural - the natural world is full of pretense - bugs that look like sticks, animals with fur that looks like dappled leaves, lizards that blend in with their surroundings.  They pretend to be something they are not in order to keep themselves safe.  The difference between these animals and people is that the animals do it involuntarily - they were just made that way.  People have to pretend "on purpose."  But maybe that's not totally true.  It's instinctive for a rabbit to freeze and blend in with its surroundings when in danger.  Its mom didn't teach it that; it just knows.  Maybe people know that pretending is necessary on some instinctive level; it's just that our pretenses are so much more complicated, and we have the ability to get carried away with them.

I think that I was raised to do a great deal of pretending.  You pretend to like the awful casserole your grandma serves every time you visit so you don't hurt her feelings.  You pretend to be "fine" when somebody asks you how you are doing.  You bluff your way through childhood games (and then when you are older, poker, if you are so inclined.  I'm an awful bluffer so I stay away.) 

Which makes me wonder - can we distinguish between pretending and lying?  When is pretending a "little white lie" and when is it some kind of amoral behavior modification (like camouflage) and when is it an act of hope?  How many times have I heard the advice to smile even when I'm sad because eventually the act of smiling in itself will make me feel happy.

I, personally, don't like pretending (unless it's for entertainment - since I've had kids it's quite possible I have been a horse or a princess or a cat for more time than I have been a human being) and I really think it's possible to get through life without doing it.  There's a difference between being brutally honest and being tactfully honest.  There is also a difference between pretending and behaving in a way that's uncomfortable to you in order to better yourself -"pretending" to be more confident than you are is not so much pretending as it is forcing yourself to act the way you honestly want to act.  That seems more like practice than pretending. 

I'm getting rambly.  I will save my other thoughts - how DO kids learn to pretend?  Are girls taught to pretend more than boys (since, stereotypically, they are supposed to keep their "ugly" feelings hidden and put everyone else's needs before their own)?  Ok, stopping now. This is really a thought-provoking topic.
There was an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun in which the aliens puzzle over the discrepancy between what people often say and what they think and feel. At the end of the episode John Lithgow's character has a sort of epiphany in which he realizes that telling "white lies" functions as a sort of social lubricant in which people are often less than truthful in order to preserve relationships that might otherwise be damaged by too much forthrightness. In many cases this kind of pretending is socially sanctioned -as Jackie says for example when people ask you how you are it's generally understood that this is a mere social pleasantry and the appropriate and expected response is brief and direct. My 11th grade high school English teacher illustrated this the point by saying: "Next time someone asks how you are, really tell them!" Everyone laughed, because we could all readily imagine how that would be received.

Contrary to what we have been taught as children honesty sometimes isn't the best policy. As someone who values forthrightness, I can tell you that from experience. When I did my honours oral exam in uni for example the chairperson wrapped things up by saying "If I can give you some advice, when you do these things in the future...". The she paused, weighing her words. "Don't volunteer information?" I suggested. "Exactly!" she said. One of the questions I was asked was about the books that had influenced me the most in the course of my studies. One of the ones I mentioned was Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", which happened to be true, but I did so knowing full well that one of my professors sitting right there was quite vocal in his disapproval of the book. Was that the smart -as opposed to the honest- thing to do? Probably not, both from the standpoint of my grade on the exam and my prospects for graduate school  (had I chosen to pursue that course). In that particular instance I don't think my prof was unduly put off, in fact I flatter myself that he was quite impressed with my -uh...candidness (he'd had plenty of exposure to it during his seminar on war and society in the 20th century!) That makes him the exception though. As the chairperson's gratuitous advice illustrates, when you want to impress people (not just professors but potential employers, mates, etc.) its more profitable to tell people what you think they want to hear, even if it's not the truth. If anything the expectation that you SHOULD bend over backwards to impress someone renders your failure do so doubly disappointing.

We all say we value honesty, but the truth is in many social situations hypocrisy will get you much further much faster!
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