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Posted by on Nov 18, 2014 in Blog, Essays, Featured, Personal | 3 comments

We Are Not Who We Seem




Someone approached me a few days ago.  His comment took me by surprise.

“You’re not at all what you seem to be,” he stated.  “You’re not at all what I expected.”

Huh?  I wasn’t sure how to take those comments exactly.  I’m not what I seem to be?  I’m not what he expected?  How’s that?

The man went on to explain he’d read my writings.  He’d watched some videos, where I often rant about various topics that piss me off.  He even mentioned that he’d seen me on the “Poker Night in America” television show, where I occasionally go off the deep end towards the end of the program.

Yet, in person, I was none of those outlandish things he expected.  Perhaps he was expecting some kind of crazed lunatic.  I guess I turned out to be a little boring to him.  I was certainly disappointing.

Indeed, such disappointment is imminent with just about everyone we meet where we have preconceived notions, and especially lofty expectations.  Truth is, each one of us has multiple personalities.  Not necessarily of the disorder kind, mind you.  I mean different facets of our personality which come out when placed in the right environments, and tempted by certain people.  After all, we behave differently in front of our parents, bosses, children, co-workers, and friends.  In essence, no person lives inside a one-dimensional vacuum (okay, maybe some do — but they’re pretty rare).  Most of us have multiple interests and varied patterns of behavior.  You can be an accountant from Monday through Friday and then play blues guitar on Saturday night.  That scenario basically describes just about everyone.

Nevertheless, this acknowledgement of fact doesn’t stop us from making snap judgments and misinterpreting what we see based on very limited sample sizes.

Comedians understand this internal disconnect all too well.  Steve Martin really isn’t a “wild and crazy guy.”  Not at all.  That shtick was just a stage act, and a very old one that’s become terribly dated now.  However, even today — decades after his best days working as a stand-up comedian — people still expect him to be funny whenever he ventures out in public.  Most of those who report encounters with Martin face-to-face report meeting a totally different person, not at all like the comedian who used to wear rabbit ears onstage and do funny slapstick gags.  Truth is, Martin is just as serious-minded as anyone else, probably even more so given his love for everything from bluegrass music to collecting fine art.  Fortunately, his gift for comedy provided him a route to wealth and fame and he’s been fighting against the typecasting ever since.

Another comedian, Steve Carell was featured on “60 Minutes” just a few weeks ago.  Like Martin, Carell revealed a completely different side of himself than the one we are used to seeing in the movies or on television.  In his interview, he was seen as a devoted father and the kind of guy who might live next door to you and mow the grass on Saturday mornings.  Carell even confessed that he’s really “not that funny.”

Perhaps the best (or worst) example of a comedian who had contrasting compartments to his personality, each filled with boundless energy waiting to be released in some fashion, whether it was playing funny or serious roles, was the late Robin Williams.  No one could have foreseen than behind the laughing mask was a lot of sadness and pain.  I presume it must have been quite difficult for Williams being around other people.  Wherever he went, he was expected to be the outrageous comedian all the time, when he obviously had other needs within trapped inside, needing to get out.

And don’t even get me started on Bill Cosby.  Like I said, we are not who we seem.

I have a real problem with people who see the world and all within it in such shallow terms.  Most of us are guilty of this breach.  We rush to judgments about people we usually know little about — from insurance salesmen to women with blond hair to a resident of Detroit.  We continue to evaluate people based on their race, or where they live, or what they do for a living.  Honestly — does your race, your hometown, or your job define who you are?

I don’t think so.

And so, if demographic fundamentals don’t tell the true story of who we really are — why then should these same stats necessarily reveal much about the people we meet every day, and inevitably categorize and assess?

They shouldn’t.

The motto of my website from the very beginning has been — faber est quisque fortunae suae.  That’s Latin for — we are the architects of our own success.

Unfortunately, things like who your parents are, your ethnicity, where you grow up and live, your looks on the beauty scale, and several other factors way beyond your control will have a considerable influence on your path in life and may even determine your ultimate level of success.

Our mission should be to change all that.  Our mission should be to break away from these prohibitive bounds ourselves, and then help others to overcome the constraints — be it family, community, society, or religion — which so often limits everyone’s full potential.  Such simple-minded, one-dimensional thinking not only misrepresents those around us, it often cloaks who we really are.

It’s not fair to others.  And it’s not fair to ourselves.

And so, although I couldn’t answer the man’s comments then, I can certainly address them now.  He’s quite right — I’m not what I seem to be.  I’m much more.  And I’m proud of that fact.  Just as you should be too, when looking at yourself in the mirror.


  1. I first saw you at Main Event, covering the events ringside. Had no idea you had any celebrity or were a poker laureate. Good on you.

  2. Here’s an oversimplification, but one that fits: In psychology one often talks of “Trait Theory” and “State Theory.” The former is that notion that people have essential “traits” that make them what they are. The latter notes that the conditions, the “state” has an enormous impact on how we act.

    The guy you ran into was assuming that Trait theory was right and was surprised when you didn’t act in accordance with the traits you’d exhibited. He’s not alone. The vast majority thinks Trait theory is correct.

    The data speak volumes and it’s on the other side. As you note, the evidence shows compellingly that the circumstances, the context, the current state of affairs has the major role in determining how we act.

    The full story is a bit more complex than this (of course) but this is a pretty good gloss and it says that, one more time, Mr. Dalla gets it right.

    Now if he only would listen to me when it comes to betting on the NFL.

  3. And there you go.

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