November 30, 2006

At The Threshold


As a shrink, one thing you have ample opportunity to do is observe good actors.

Among us, and well represented in the ranks of society’s most important and influential, are people who might be warm, easy-going or magnanimous on the surface, but are actually quite unfriendly, ill-at-ease or selfish in true character.

With such people, the social environment (a meeting room, a dinner table or even a stop light) can mostly serve like a stage upon which, in an automatic way, this outer self is necessarily unfurled.

Although we often sense when someone is trying too hard, being phony, or otherwise putting on an act, what we rarely notice is the change process, that quick “behavioral dressing-room” maneuver from unmasked to masked.  In a psychotherapy office, when you’re trained to look for it, where these transformations (in manner, expression or attitude) are often most observable is at the doorway — the threshold of the stage.

Given the tense, desperate build-up to the two day Bush-Maliki meeting in Jordan yesterday, and the fact Maliki stood Bush up until the second day, one can only imagine the humiliation involved.  At the same time, one easily understands the steep, immediate and mandatory face-saving reflex that makes it all seem “business as usual.”

Once fully on stage last night with King Abdullah (playing chaperone and make-up date), and then on back on today with the recalcitrant Maliki, Bush met the customary marks with his seen-a-thousand-times TV face and Southern charm.


In what could turn out to be one of history’s most imaginary dog-and-pony shows, however, check out Bush at the threshold.

The concern, the worry, and the anticipation of the act reveals a situation so unstable, backstage is running into front stage, and it’s enough to remember just to fit on the mask.

(image 1& 3: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/A.P.  Amman, Jordan. November 29, 2006.  via YahooNews.  image 2: Jim Young/Reuters.  November 29, 2006. Amman , Jordan. via YahooNews.  image 4:  Emilio Morenatti/A.P. Amman, Jordan. November 29, 2006.  via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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