My Two Faces Activity: A Search for the Real Self

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” –Dr. Seuss

We are often not ourselves. Often we are what others want us to be. But as the Latin proverb says, you have to “live your own life, for you will surely die your own death.” So why do we spend so much time trying to act the way others expect us to act? (And I’m the worst with this, always trying to please.) Is it built into our evolution, this desire to follow ,or please, the herd? I’ll never forget the day my son arrived home from pre-Kindergarten and announced that football was his favorite sport and The Vikings his favorite team, neither of which, thanks to a dad who was born without the male sport gene, he knew anything about. Four years old and he was already following the crowd, acting in ways others expected him to act. He intuitively knew, based on friends’ talk around the sandbox, that these were important things that must be declared. This plays out in many ways beyond hobbies and sports. In smaller ways we are often two selves, the one we show to the world and the one inside. My Two Faces is an activity that helps young people understand how they sometimes get split in half. And sometimes we have to; but other times we can lose ourselves.

When first testing this activity out with my high school students at the juvenile detention center, I was surprised by how aware they were of their duplicity. Many kids readily admitted to feeling exactly the opposite of how they acted in public. This led to some great discussions about times when it might be necessary to “put on a face.” We might fake a little extra confidence when giving a speech. As parents, we make our kids feel safe and secure, even when the bank account gets low and the outside world appears dangerous. But should we always be acting?

“One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead,” says Oscar Wilde. But how do we find our real selves? When is it necessary to act, and when it is critical to be true to how we feel?

Back to my pre-K son: As school went on, he continued to talk football at home, naming players, declaring who his favorite quarterback was, and he had still never seen or played a real game! He was copying the crowd. He wanted a jersey for Christmas, and we finally did watch a game together. Meanwhile, I wined to my wife about how he was being brainwashed by his friends. I told him he needed to talk about indie rock bands and great authors to his friends. I couldn’t wait for him to get old enough to learn how awful football really was, men bashing their heads against each other in some barbaric ritual.

My Two Faces can be used in many ways. We can have our kids compare how they act to how they feel. This can lead to an important discussion about confidence and bravery. We can’t always act how we feel. Some mornings I want to run and hide from the world, and most the times I don’t. We can also have young people think about the roles they perform with their family and friends versus how they really want to be. I’ve had students realize how other people’s expectations lead to conflict in themselves. My parents expect me to be serious. My friends expect me to be the funny one. Finally, this activity could be an opportunity for a child to reflect on how they sometimes “follow the crowd” in a way that does not feel right to their inner selves.

So after years of counter-brainwashing on my part, I got my son listening to indie-rock and reading some decent books. But he still loves football and heated competition and banging his head against other guys. Somehow, despite me, he found his real self. Try My Two Faces with your family or classroom, and let me know what you think.

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Tall Trees Grow Deep is devoted to creating and sharing free resources that inspire mindfulness, contemplation, compassion, creativity, deep-thinking, and awesomeness. All activities are universal–no religion necessary–and designed to work in the classroom or around the kitchen table. If you haven’t already, subscribe to get new stuff sent to your email. Or explore our growing page of free, printable, reproducible activities for home or school.

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