relational performance art

we all act differently when we’re being watched. it’s hard to find anyone who disputes this claim. social psychologists, marketing experts, your mom. they all agree. who and how you are in private differs from who and how you present yourself in front of an audience. even of one. i notice this about myself all the time. i don’t sing out loud or dance wildly in my car when i know that the driver next to me is turned in my direction. there are clothes i don’t go out to check the mail in. there are photos from entire decades of my life that will never be in frames.

when moving our bodies about in this world, it’s relatively easy to determine when we are being watched. when making our way past a full table to grab a seat in a restaurant. when arriving late to a meeting. when we’ve just done the most embarrassing thing ever. whatever that is.

when we notice an audience in these moments, we compensate quickly. we retreat. we blush. sometimes we even apologize. at times we anticipate being watched. we count on it. we prepare for it. we let it communicate to us. “you’re important.” “you’re ridiculous.” “you’re amazing.” “you aren’t seriously [wearing that] [doing that] [being the person you’re being] are you?” we seem to take in our observer’s responses as litmus tests about who we are.

as our lives become increasingly digitally centered, it seems to me as though we live more and more of them being watched. we think in status updates. we move through our days in tweets and tumblr posts. we strategically include flattering photos of ourselves on our profiles and similarly avoid the less than flattering stories we find ourselves central to. we check to see who is following us, who has liked our status’, or how many hits we’ve had in the week.

in so doing we treat both our lives and our relationships as performance art.

i believe that we do this for so many reasons. we are hungry for connection and at a loss for how to find it so we substitute evaluation (sometimes even assumed evaluation) for encounter. we are starved for self love and self knowing awareness but have developed neither so turn to self promotion to fill in the gaps. we are uncertain of how to feel about ourselves and don’t know how to anchor in God’s, our friend’s, and even our own sense of deep available value so we count up likes and hits and followers, figuring that those who are watching us will give us a clue as to how to behave. how to think. how to feel.

so today i will take a pause and i ask you to join me. when i want to hit “refresh” on the stats page of this blog, when i feel tempted to summarize my last hour or two in a quippy facebook status, when i watch someone else’s beauty/brilliance/success unfold on instagram and feel tempted to judge myself against it, i will stop. i will pause. i will look inside. i will be my own audience. and i will comfort the self that feels so compelled to perform and, instead, just be.


  1. it is interesting to see how often our lives in the social/relational/communal sense parallel the observations of hard science.

    we are living examples of the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, and/or of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which say that observation changes the behavior/mode/appearance of a particle...when observed the particle is just that...a particle (static), but when unobserved the particle becomes a wave (dynamic).

    our behavior changes if and/or when we are watched or believe we are being watched.

    or taken to a deeper, more metaphysical level, maybe we could use a similar scientific analogy and say that we are all Schrodinger's Cat(s)...both alive and dead at the same time. But rather than "alive" and "dead" perhaps use the words "authentic" and "fake," or "vulnerable" and "guarded," or "pretense" and "openness"

  2. so often we are lead to believe that appearances are what is important, not the underlying reality and truth, not the underlying motivation and brokenness.

    a teen acts out and a parent responds with "how could you do this? what will people think? do you know how this makes me/us look?"

    a person, in his or her anger, begins to berate their significant other or their child...to rage or ridicule or criticize or attack...but all in private, away from the eyes of the outside. but in public view the same person is loving and supportive and happy and the life of the party.

    an individual who has said and/or done things for which they know they will be judged by others in their circle of "friends," puts up a selective stream of statuses to give the impression of happiness and joy and having it all together...all the while trying to hide the hurt and brokenness and confusion.

  3. 'i will be my own audience...' l.o.v.e.