Tuesday, June 2, 2015

keeping up appearances

It's probably unfair to single them out with a broad brush, but when I hear the phrase "keeping up appearances" I think of the British and the Japanese as being first in line. As I say ... unfair, though not entirely wrong.

What brought this to mind was re-watching an episode of "Foyle's War," a British TV serial about a police detective during World War II. The episode, "White Feather," was peppered with an upper-crust aristocracy that was hip-deep in sympathizing with Nazi Germany. These were well-educated and well-coiffed individuals keenly aware of their stature and status.

Stature and status and "keeping up appearances." You know ... "face."

Does it occur to anyone else as it does to me that the whole of spiritual endeavor might be reduced to the longing to stop keeping up appearances, of whatever sort? What might life be like if all of my politesse and considered judgments and loves and hates and beliefs just dropped away? Wouldn't life be lighter and less freighted and more straightforward and, in the end, easier?

"Keeping up appearances" has its social usefulnesses, not the least of which is to bolster whatever good opinion I might have of myself. Without such social veils, well, who knows ... maybe I'd just be a self-centered boor and a threat to civil society and friendless. So it's spooky, on the one hand -- letting go of the appearances I have chosen -- but the notion nudges and nags: It all gets so cumbersome after a while.

Oh goody, for example: I'm interested in spiritual endeavor and choose to take some aspects of it quite seriously. But do I really need to "tote that barge and lift that bale?" My interest may be adjudged better than becoming a serial killer, but in the end, isn't this version of keeping up appearances more burden than blessing? If you call the ocean "the ocean," is the ocean improved? Does it accede? Does it rebuke? Does the ocean bulk up as it keeps up appearances?

Keeping up appearances has its pluses and minuses, but it does strike me as a habit, whether in the stature and status of British aristocracy or the rigidities of a Japanese silence or just the go-along-to-get-along world. Everyone has a program. My question is merely what it might be like -- whether whoopie or yikes -- if the program were no longer turned on... or at least it were acknowledged that turning it on and turning it off was simply a choice that the chooser does not need to be a slave to what is just a choice.

Kind of like skinny-dipping at last.

1 comment:

  1. When i received my rakusu, my teacher introduced me to the room as "a what you see is what you get" kind of guy. For some reason i felt complemented.

    But what i'm reminded of by the phrase is the britcom Keeping Up Appearances, described as "A snobbish housewife is determined to climb the social ladder, in spite of her family's working class connections and the constant chagrin of her long suffering husband." Among others, this show is an old friend.