What is it about the presence of other people, about having an audience, that gives us permission to indulge ourselves? Is it simply that somewhat illicit indulgences are more fun when shared with someone else? Is it that we crave outside permission, so we can point to someone else and say, “But they said it was okay, too!”? Is it a self-preservation mechanism, trying to save us from ourselves by only allowing indulgence on special occasions?
I ask because I now have Häagen-Dazs ice cream in my freezer, and it would never have ended up there if I hadn’t been grocery shopping with company over the weekend. I have hot fudge to go on top of it, too. I’m amused by the way the mere presence of another person has changed my own actions. For me, I think part of it is the thrill of convincing someone else to be complicit, in gaining a “partner in crime,” in creating a brief sort of naughty bond of conspiracy against the societal idea of what’s good for us. I mean, we spend our entire childhoods trying to convince other people, in this case, our parents or other adults, to give us things we want. Didn’t there end up being some satisfaction gained from simply the act of convincing the other person to your point of view, aside from getting whatever it is you were arguing for? Doesn’t there still?
I actually discovered a sad thing about being an adult. There’s no one to convince. There’s no challenge to trying to convince someone you should stay home sick, if you’re the only one there to convince. It’s just a question: Should I go to work today or not? Blah. No, “Can I convince mom and dad? Could I get the whole day off? Should I try to go for the morning and then call to get picked up at lunch? Would that have a better chance of convincing? Can I make myself look really pale? How pitiful do I need to be?” Just, “Should I go or not? Will I get paid? Can I make it through the day? Do I want to deal with the work that will pile up in smaller pieces while feeling bad, or all at once when I think I’ll feel better?” That’s no fun. That’s just logic and being responsible and boring. I didn’t miss more than maybe 4 classes during all of college for illness, because I would always decide to just go and get it over with. I missed so many days of 6th grade I nearly failed based on poor attendance, because the challenge of convincing my parents I should stay home was more fun than school.
Maybe I just had less grasp of the consequences then. On the other hand, there’s the food issue. Left to my own devices, my grocery shopping is very boring. I get healthy, easy, boring food. I don’t have lots of snacks. But when there’s someone else there? It’s so much fun to convince them to go along with me in getting desserts. Would I really want schmancy ice cream if I was shopping by myself? Probably only if I was in a really bad mood, otherwise, nah. Don’t need it, why bother? But with another person, suddenly, that food is fun! It’s not suddenly healthier for me, it’s just more fun, and kind of wicked. But the wickedness doesn’t tempt me when I’m alone.
So does the presence of other people make me less responsible than I am on my own? Sometimes. Sometimes it works the other way. On my own, I can’t make myself get out of bed in the morning if I don’t need to. But if I’m sharing a room with someone, or staying over at someone else’s house, I feel I have to be more responsible about getting up at a “reasonable” hour, making the bed, doing the dishes promptly, vacuuming, being helpful.
In the end, it seems, having an audience changes us. This seems obvious in some ways, but insidious and surprising in others. Does anyone else have a particular way that having an audience changes their actions, for good or ill?
I’m off to go have some ice cream now.