Exercise number ten
Have you not noticed how most people, when they have to walk into a room where there’s music on (say, a pub), they tend to catwalk? They tend to adjust their steps unconsciously to the beat and sometimes they even take the gait of fashion presenters and put on that smart-poker-face of real stage walkers. This happens especially when the room is crowded, because that’s when people really feel they’re being watched.
What if we realised that we were being watched by a large number of eyes all the time? I mean, really all the time? Would our everyday behaviour be different? No doubt. Because all our actions would subtly turn into performances and, as Goffman says, our feelings would turn into emotions.
All right, here’s Exercise Number Ten. Step outside on the street and have a walk. Look at the people around you, pay attention to their faces, their bodies, their movements. Then put your earphones on and play a track on your player. Any track. Now gaze again at the people around you and imagine that you’re watching a movie and that the music you hear is the soundtrack.
Notice the differences. Notice how different you perceive every step, every movement, every face. Strangers around you have become actors and characters: you can see now ‘states,’ actions, tensions, and conflicts.
Change the track now. See how the movie unfolds. Is it different? Is the music filling the air with a particular drama, giving people’s faces particular meanings?
Now stop the track and take your earphones off.
There’s always a song playing in your soul. Your own state of mind is like a melody, a film soundtrack that filters and envelops the reality around you, turining it into a film. Bestowing meanings upon it.
Naturally, the next phase of this exercise is to take your invisible earphones off. Pay attention to the differences. Naturally, this phase of Exercise Number Ten can take a minute or it can take years. You are wearing invisible earphones right now; their melodies change when your mood changes, when your body posture changes, when your soul attitude changes.
We’re not done yet. In the next sequence, you’re out again, walking down that street. Imagine you’re in a film. You’ve seen the film before, and this gives you a certain precedence over the passers-by: you know how the film ends, but they don’t. So imagine that something terrible is going to happen very soon, say, a nuclear explosion. Nobody can guess it, nobody can anticipate such a terrible thing. Watch them with care: watch their faces, their joy, their sorrows, their blank faces, their movements. Just take pleasure at watching them carefully. Don’t they look somehow naïve to you, given that all this is going to end in a few minutes? Don’t you feel you wish you could warn them and tell them to stop behaving in this comfortable, nothing-can-happen-to-me way? Look at the little girl smiling at her mother; how do you perceive her? You don’t hear any music this time, yet your knowledge lingers in the background like some gloomy music altering everything that stays in the foreground. Isn’t it amazing that you can suddenly feel empathy for that guy whom you’d normally dislike or that woman whom you’d normally laugh at, simply because you know they’re gonna suffer and die soon?
That’s all. Naturally, Exercise Number Ten was not meant to bring you anywhere or to teach you anything. I need to go to sleep, I can’t believe it’s 2:40 in the morning.