Sometimes I was the cowboy and sometimes the Indian in the clichéd game of Cowboys and Indians. After John Glenn went into orbit, my friends and I loved to pretend to be astronauts.
My parents bought a little reel to reel tape recorder for me when I was still quite young. I read newspaper stories into the microphone to create newscasts. I also invented advertisements to play back while changing records on my little phonograph. Nobody was surprised when I later chose broadcasting for a career.
I think of people who take up acting in plays and movies for a living. They go around pretending to be other people and then get paid enormous sums of money to do so. It must be liberating to go home from the studio to once again become themselves. Perhaps this is the reason why Drew Barrymore once said, “There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk.”
Pretending to be someone you’re not can be helpful in many instances or it can be a coping mechanism to protect yourself from harm. During my high school years, I had to pretend to be heterosexual. I even went so far as to go steady with two girlfriends. I found out later that very few classmates were fooled by my charade.
A lot of us have a hard time facing reality and truth. We prefer to exist in a make-believe world. Some call it fantasy, and others say this is denial. The philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “The world is a perpetual caricature of itself: at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.”
If we pay close attention to the commentators and “experts” we eventually discover that many of them project a false certainty and dogmatism about subjects they actually know little or nothing about. When we see this, we become very concerned when people pretend to know things about which they don’t have a clue. It’s very worrisome when such people cast themselves as leaders and cultural icons.
Sometimes a cultural icon learns from his life experiences and has wisdom to share. David Letterman is one of those people. He said, “There’s only one requirement of any of us, and that is to be courageous. Because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior. And, I believe–because I’ve done a little of this myself–pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.”
Pause awhile, and think about what pretending means in your life. Pretending can be a tool for good or for ill.