“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” — Psalm 139:23
Masters of Disguise
We are all phonies. I don’t mean to say you are a complete fabrication, and I am not saying you are totally disingenuous. But in some form or fashion, you and I both possess a skill we hone to perfection daily — the ability to make others believe what we want them to believe about us.
Before you get all huffy, I’ll go ahead and let you off the hook a little bit. You may not realize you do this. I know I don’t always plan to do this myself. But when I analyze my behaviors and words, I can see a wake behind me where I have helped to mold someone’s opinion of me. In short, this is known as “impression management.”
Author John Ortberg says we engage in impression management when we “try to convince people that our motives are pure, that our accomplishments are impressive, or that our life is in better shape than it seems.” We are so consumed with being accepted and fitting in that we will often include disclaimers in our normal dialogue to make sure someone thinks the best of us. Of course, with the advent of social media, we’ve taken this to a whole new level.
For example, you may talk to someone about a song you heard in the car. You aren’t sure whether or not the other person listens to that type of music, or if the lyrics in the song are going to personally incriminate you as “one of those people.” So you qualify your remarks by saying, “I was just flipping through the stations on my radio and happened to hear this song…” Or maybe you’ll say, “I normally listen to talk radio, but during a commercial I switched the channel and heard this song…”
In short, you are trying to paint the picture that you are someone your audience should really like, and that the song you heard may not necessarily define who you are. But those disclaimers have nothing to do with the point you were attempting to make about the song. So why did you include them? Because you and I have a problem. It’s called approval addiction.
Ortberg, in his book “The Life You Always Wanted,” writes, “Human conversation is largely an endless attempt to convince others that we are more assertive or clever or gentle or successful than they might think if we did not carefully educate them.”
Generally, I am considered a “people pleaser.” Umpires and referees, and my two kids, would disagree. But if you are an acquaintance of mine, I want you to like me. I am going to tell you things you want to hear, and if you challenge me, I am less likely to push back. I want your approval.
At the same time, even though you and I may have little or nothing in common, I want you to believe that I like you, too. Some of what I will say to you is just common courtesy, but I also may pretend I am interested in hobbies that do not appeal to me at all. And if three or four of you are talking about something I know nothing about, I’ll nod and chuckle and go along for the ride. If the topic is ever about soccer, “The Bachelor,” politics or power tools, you can know right now that I am already thinking of a way out … but of course I won’t want to offend you.
All of this manipulation can be mentally exhausting. And it’s completely unnecessary. What makes it so difficult is that I am often too busy thinking about myself that I overlook the opportunity I have to encourage you, acknowledge you, give you my undivided attention.
All of this reveals a deeper issue that lies within our hearts. It’s summed up best by Ortberg’s piercing words: “I work harder at making people think that I am a loving person than I do at actually loving them.”
You and I are different. We have different interests, different skills, different backgrounds, different educations, different sources of inspiration. That’s the beauty of our world, and of God’s creation.
Remember this: You and I have the ability to validate, or invalidate, anyone’s opinion of us. And if we’ll focus our attention most on pleasing God, then we can worry far less about pleasing others.
— C.A. Phillips, NorthStar Church, Kennesaw, Ga.
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