Recently I learned the Spanish word “postureo” from Sofía B. and Carmen C. It apparently derives from “posar” (which comes, in turn from the English word “to pose” or the noun “poser”), which means adopting a pose in order to impress those who see, read or hear you.
This is an attitude which is totally opposed to that of my generation, which sought—perhaps also a way of posing—above all to achieve authenticity, even if at times it was rather grubby and smelly. The new trend, which apparently attracts many young people, consists precisely in appearing to be what one is not. Posing is always an artificial mask by which one seeks to impact others, gaining their admiration or, perhaps more often, their jealousy. An expert tells me that posing consists, above all, in trying to show that you are special, different from everyone else, even if in reality you are just doing what you have seen someone famous do. And a student added that this practice is proper to mediocre people that live on a diet of advertising.
To me it smells of closed, musty rooms, rather near to that British snobbery characteristic of 19th century colleges. These things have always seemed to be, at the very least, grotesque. By way of an association of images, there comes to mind the student with whom I shared a room during my first summer in Galway, Ireland. Although we were only 12 years old, my roommate was always taking about the nobility, family trees and the ancient heritage of the noble families. I had never met anybody who was so interested in things that seemed so odd to me. Indeed, this fellow ended up devoting himself professionally to heraldry and art.
What is authenticity? It is the truth about ourselves. Between fake posturing and brutal spontaneity there is—I think—a wide open space in which we human beings can be at ease and communicate in a friendly way. Achieving this authenticity demands a permanent search in order to discover who we are and what we want. Authenticity is always fruit of an effort to correct our own spontaneity in an intelligent way. By correcting our errors we become able to be ourselves: this is what education is all about. Posing, on the other hand, is radically inauthentic because it leads to one’s very identity becoming dependent on the gaze and recognition of others, on the impact or effect that we supposed cause in them.
I am depressed that among young college students it is relatively common to see this behavior, to see that they are more concerned about appearances than about who they are. I hope that this will not corrupt the professors, at least, but rather that they will be able to teach their students, through the example of their lives, that what is really important in life is being what one is and not appearing to be what one is not.
A colleague wrote to me to say that posing is not just an issue among those adolescents that upload thousands of photos to social networks to gain admiration and attention, but that even important institutions—including universities themselves—are starting to make videos of everything, in which everybody is smiling and talking about how happy they are. “Posing as such,” concluded Raquel C., “is not unreal, but if we take the part for the whole, this is what makes us inauthentic.” I truly understand the demands of our modern society of communication, but by way of contrast I cannot help thinking of the saying attributed to Ralph W. Emerson: “If a man is able to write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he lived in the middle of a forest, the world will end up beating a path to his door.”
These words are not found in his published works, but apparently they were written down by someone attending a talk he gave in San Francisco in 1871. Sometimes I think that if I could choose between living now or then, I would choose that time, in which what was important was being better and not posing. But then I think that if I make an effort to not pose myself and try to be authentic, and if I tell my students and readers about this path, perhaps amongst all of us we can retrieve for our time that fascinating, attractive work of living in reality.