III. 2. Michael the Man v/s Mike the Young Male

 

Our perception of the environment is strongly individual due to our individual self-perception. The subjective arrangement of the circumstances in it is a result of our inborn inclinations, qualities and preferences, on one hand, and our experience, on the other.

Many of the differences among us in terms of the way we digest the environment derive directly from our genes. We like things that are often disliked by others because our natural tastes, unlike theirs, make these things attractive to us, and vice versa. But we also adore or fear other things because our memory has stored the information of how sweet and attractive, or respectively how unpleasant and dangerous to us personally such things can be; we plunge into or avoid different ventures to a different extent than others, because our conscious assessment of our own strengths or weaknesses is different than theirs. This is how our self-knowledge, which combines our innate tastes and our experience, determines the degree of significance we grant to the various circumstances of the outer world. Therefore, from the hierarchy of these circumstances, which is visible through our behavior, one can judge our self-perception.

Mike and his girlfriend are studying for a college test in her apartment. It is late in the afternoon when they hear the slam of the front door. A couple of seconds later the teenage brother of Mike’s girlfriend appears in the living room. He is crying and rambling something that no one can understand. After a while it becomes clear that three older boys have just apprehended him in front of the building, slapped him several times across the face and taken away the twenty bucks he had in his pocket. Obviously now the boy isn’t as much scared as he is humiliated. His adolescent pride and dignity has just been unscrupulously violated, and his sister starts worrying that this threatens to turn his whole fragile world upside down. That’s why her whole attention turns to Mike, as the Man in the situation. But his reaction is nothing like what she expects. After a few more questions and a long silence, instead of jumping from his seat and darting outside to deal with the gangsters, he goes back to his notebook. His girlfriend is angry and disappointed. After taking care of her brother she barely says a word until Mike leaves. Less than a week later she breaks up with him.

Of course, she knows that Mike isn’t a bodybuilder. She knows that especially when she is present Mike feels uncomfortable around strong muscular guys, and she guesses that he is pretty sensitive about his short stature. But she also believed that he loved her, and has naturally admitted looking after her to be one of his top priorities. Now she understands how wrong she has been. As it turns out Mike’s self-perception has the circumstance “I’m unable to fight and I dread fighting” on a higher position than “I love her and I would do anything for her”. Probably these two inner circumstances have never had to compete with each other before, so the result must be a total surprise not only to Mike’s girlfriend, but also to Mike himself. The interesting part is that Mike’s girlfriend is able to grasp the real Mike (or his true self-perception) by revealing his perception of the environment in a critical moment: since he obviously chooses the circumstance of the upcoming college test over the circumstance of the incident, the latter is obviously not so important, which obviously means that everything related to her, as dramatic as it may be, is not so important, hence she herself is not so important to Mike! Which girl would stay in a relationship after having made these conclusions?

Our self-perception is visible through every single choice we make from among the circumstances of the environment. Even within the smallest, most insignificant situation one can distinguish a part of our inner essence. The genius of Konstantin Stanislavski discovered this interrelation more than a century ago. His famous Method of physical actions is based on this notion. It affirms that the inner life of the character with its most subtle nuances can be experienced by the actor and revealed to the audience by building up a precise score of his/her physical behavior. Why? Our physicality is a demonstration of the individual preferences we have towards the circumstances that constitute the environment. By observing our physical life one can gain a clear impression of our preferences – the hierarchy in which we arrange the outer circumstances. Since our perception of the environment (or hierarchy of outer circumstances) is interlocked with our self-perception (chapter I.1.), the physical actions we perform reveal our inner life in all its complexity.

Let’s take a look at the simplest physical action from our everyday life: our gait. The way we walk is not just a display of our physicality; it is molded by our psychology as well. The proof can often be found in the weird way we keep balance, or the pattern of “decorating” our walk with all kinds of unnecessary movements that go beyond what Mother Nature requires from us. These “additions” are a direct result of the way we perceive the environment, and speak volumes about our self-perception.

The first and most obvious sign of our inner life comes from our body posture: it indicates, even to an unprejudiced eye, whether our self-perception is topped by a self-projection or a self-preservation circumstance. People who are driven by the urge to project themselves are not shy of revealing how their body functions; they openly enjoy their physicality. The impression some of them give is as if they walk on air. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who hate or fear their surrounding world. They often have their shoulders slumped forward, or their chest is sunken, or the palms of their hands are turned backwards. Their whole posture indicates discomfort; their body looks like being pulled systematically down towards the ground.

Once we set off the careful observer would reveal even more about us: from the indications of which segments of the environment we perceive as important he could successfully guess on the specific circumstances that crown our self-perception. The young girl who passes the crowded open space restaurant with an alluring swagger obviously considers the world a place filled with men appreciative of female beauty; hence one of the important circumstances of her self-perception is her seductive appeal. The lawyer who thrusts himself forward even while shopping with his wife obviously views humanity as members of a stupid jury who need intrusion into their physical space in order to return to their senses; his self-perception is dominated by the circumstance of his persuasion weakness. The stumbling doorman at night who raises the blood pressure of every late arrival to the building by walking slowly to unlock the front door obviously wants to underline his importance and reinforce his authority in a world that passes him by with indifference; his self-perception is being consistently eroded by the inner circumstance of his own insignificance.

A famous instance on the role of the external traits as a bridge to the inner essence of a character is Stanislavski’s description of his work on the part of Dr. Stockman from Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People”:
“On their own accord my second and third fingers used to stretch forward for more persuasiveness – as if to implant into the interlocutor’s very soul my emotions, words and thoughts. All these needs and habits appeared instinctively, unconsciously. Where did they come from? Later on I accidentally revealed their origin: several years after Stockman’s creation, at a meeting in Berlin, in a scientist I had known from before I recognized my fingers from Stockman.” (“My Life in Art”)

© 2009 Peter Budevski

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