Acting and Becoming
Not too long ago, I ate some oatmeal berry cookies. As I started on the fourth one, I felt a little over-full, but it still tasted good, so I kept chewing. Later I was sorry I hadn't stopped at two, the way my husband Jon did.
I don't bake cookies myself. I don't even keep flour and sugar in my house. These cookies were from a bakery. But by eating any of them, let alone four large ones, I was betraying my resolution to cut down on sugar and simple carbohydrates in my diet. The same was true when I helped Jon polish off some chocolates given to him by a student on Valentine's Day, even though we had decided not to buy any candy for each other.
I'm a hypocrite.
The original meaning of the ancient Greek word "hypocrisy" is "acting on the stage, playing a part, pretending." All of us do it. We all sometimes feel or think one thing while doing another.
So maybe I'm just a fallible human being slowly trying to improve myself. After all, hypocrisy isn't always bad.
Don't believe me? Consider these scenarios:
- A young woman carefully applies makeup, dons a new suit, and slips on tasteful costume jewelry. Nervousness makes her palms sweat and her mouth feel dry, but she's determined to project intelligence and competence at the interview for her first professional job.
- An intern in a large hospital fights fatigue as he swallows another energy drink and practices smiling in the bathroom mirror before beginning patient rounds.
- A middle-aged woman is dismayed that her father keeps calling her by her dead mother's name, but she continues to hold his hand and listen to his confused mumbles about events long past.
Each of these people is acting a part. All of them imagine an ideal self which they will try to become. They will have varying degrees of success or failure.
This isn't artificial – it's the way we create ourselves. Human personality isn't static or predetermined, thank goodness. It's changeable and interactive. We're all actors playing a series of roles.
But first I had to imagine that person. In order to take on new character traits, I had to intentionally become someone else. Philosopher Colin McGinn says, "It is a transformation involving imagination; [just as an] actor imagines herself as someone else."
That young woman dressing for her interview is imagining herself as the poised, well-qualified applicant who will be offered a good job. The tired and overworked intern imagines himself as the knowledgeable, reassuring doctor whom patients will trust. The woman visiting her father imagines that they still share a relationship of love and respect, and for her this is true. Each of these people has an audience and a chosen role, and the longer they play the role the more perfectly they will portray it, until they're completely transformed.
All of them are using imagination to create reality.
Imagination is more important than knowledge.Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
What does this have to do with minimalism?
Minimalism is the intentional choice to reduce belongings and busyness in order to make room, time, energy, and funds for what really matters to us.
Maybe you aspire to minimalism. But as you look at your living room, office, kitchen, or playroom, or at your calendar and schedule, what you see today might not look very minimalist. Maybe you see piles of clutter and too many commitments. Maybe you can admit to a shopping habit, a social media addiction, or a pattern of procrastination.
Take heart! If you can imagine being different, you can become someone else. Just like I can become a person who rarely eats sweets, you can become someone who lives with just the essentials, who has a better work/life balance, who doesn't shop for entertainment or for a mood boost.
Choose a new behavior and start studying for your new role today. With practice, we'll all get closer to our ideals.
Updated August 2023