Volume 1 Number 9
Behind the Image
01 May 1988

I bought a black T-shirt and Levi jeans, grew long hair and made up a new past, which included various wild, totally fictitious adventures.

As a post-graduate student in sociology. I recently gave a seminar paper entitled `The quest for wholeness'. The paper grew out of my own experience of facing the daily choice either to present the truth about myself, or to engage in truth distortion - put more politely, `image management'. My venture into image management began at school. As a teenager I liked to spend my time in the school library with half a dozen others while all the `real men' were out playing football or cricket. At my school anyone who preferred books to sports copped a lot of flak. After a couple of years of abuse I decided I needed a new image. The first step was leaving that school. The second step was putting on a tough biker look. I bought a black T-shirt and Levi jeans, grew long hair and made up a new past, which included various wild, totally fictitious adventures.

A few years later many of my fantasies had been realized. I'd gone from the biker image to student radical, to drug-dealer, to alternative life-style commune dweller, but without finding any lasting satisfaction. My friends and I believed that the capitalist and communist systems were a sham; simply different masks for bureaucrats and technocrats pursuing their power trips. Yet each new scene I got into seemed to be equally a sham. I felt as though I was a sham - underneath the mask of coolness a lonely sham. So I began a new search: a search for truth.

In facing truth it was necessary to confront the lies in old relationships. Talking honestly with my parents was the beginning of a new understanding and friendship. Returning stolen property and acknowledging crimes broke through the alienation I had felt towards society, and gave it a human face. I discovered people whom I could identify with: people who forgave, were bemused, confused, or offended and hostile. In the wake of that honesty came a new freedom, and a vision of social institutions in which relationships are built upon honesty and care rather than ambition and fear.

So what price wholeness? In an age where most of us move between separate worlds - family, school, work, recreation - opportunities for the invention of self-images abound. Yet `image management' may be responsible for many of our social problems.

My quest for wholeness has been a search for honesty; an honesty that is not an abstract idea, but a quality present or absent in the relationships - past and present - that make up my life.

As a sociologist, I believe that a quest for honest relationships is the way to come up with valid theories. The perceptions given by this quest reflect an experience of social renewal, rather than the bitterness of social alienation.

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