• Posted: May 27, 2012 14:58:11
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At least two top executives were fired this week for falsifying information on their resumés while U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren endured criticism for claiming American Indian ancestry, though politically motivated researchers could find no corroborating primary source documentation. "That's what my mother told me", she insisted.
Also discussed this week was the phenomenon of "presentation anxiety", a term now used to describe distress felt by teenagers fussing over the content and presentation of their Facebook profiles. With prom season upon us, one can hardly imagine the phenomenon of presentation anxiety confined to social media posts. Teenagers have been anxious about how they will be perceived by others for decades, if not centuries, well before Facebook ever came along.
The issue we all face is "how do we want others to view us, to understand us?" It's an important issue socially, in both our personal and in our professional lives, and for some spiritually. That is, how does or will God judge us? Even for most animals it is important. Just watch a deer tentatively entering a clearing, listening, sniffing, looking here and there, taking one careful step at a time. Not in words, but functionally, their continuing questions are: Will they be viewed as prey? Is it safe to graze here?
Coming to terms with ourselves is yet another aspect of presentation. Fabricating attractiveness or compliance or trustworthiness for others is one thing, but developing some sort of notion of ourselves that we will ultimately feel comfortable with is a lifelong continuous struggle. Psychologists like Erik Erikson have dedicated their entire professional careers considering just how that process happens. Interestingly, recent neurological studies seem to indicate that our own struggles with identity and the social presentation of that identity are not universal within the animal kingdom, and in some cases not even universal amongst all of our fellow humans.
Per an article by Laura Sanders at Science News, such research has focused on one type of neuron found only in parts of the brain known as the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex, structures believed to be involved in self-awareness and empathy in humans. Autopsies of normally functioning brains find those cells, known as von Economo neurons, to be healthy. But, autopsies of patients with a certain type of frontotemporal dementia reveal von Economo cells to have died off. Such patients have lost capacity for empathy and self-awareness and have trouble relating to other people. Brains of other large social animals like great apes, elephants, whales, and dolphins also show these cells. But, such cells have not so far been found to any great extent in the brains of animals with less complex social lives.
A related study reported recently by Reuters found certified psychopaths had less grey matter in regions of the brain known as anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and temporal poles than non-psychopathic offenders and non-offenders. Per that article by Date Kelland, "Damage to these areas is linked with a lack of empathy, a poor response to fear and distress and a lack of self-conscious emotions such as guilt or embarrassment."
Biological though the underpinnings may be, the smooth functioning of human societies depends on shared concerns regarding social presentation, from driving on the correct side of the road and observing traffic signs to conforming to laws and regulations handed down by democratic process to following through on shared plans and agreements. Unfortunately, not all citizens are capable of or willing to adopt the same conventions and follow through as planned. Such discord is probably the single biggest contributor to stress in today's world. We do it and therefore expect others to do it, too. But they don't. And so we fume, rant, and occasionally take up arms.
Some would say leadership is what's missing, someone to establish standards by which we all might aspire. No doubt many have tried that route and many more will attempt it. Others contend justice is what's missing. Support for that view appeared this week in a story filed by Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press wherein CEO pay was often found to be hundreds of times greater than that of employees. The fact remains, though, evolution is also at work here. Variation and adaptation are the two primary methods by which species and individuals survive environmental changes beyond their control. We'd be wise to open our minds to variations useful to our own survival or find ways to work around those that are not. Obstinate and even belligerent rigidity will in most cases leave us isolated, crushed, and left behind. That's a lesson struggling and would be dictators the world over might find useful to note.
May the image you create, present, and maintain for yourself bring you professional respect and personal wellbeing. And may the "failings" you perceive in others bring you tempered wisdom, if not amusement.
Monday, May 30th, 2011
St. Joseph MI