Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature
that we learn to be consummate actors from an early age.
For example, we learn how to get what we want from our parents and siblings by using certain looks to elicit affection or sympathy. And we become good at flattering people who are important to win over, such as popular peers or teachers.
As we get older and strive to carve out a career, “we learn how to create the proper front in order to be hired and fit into a group culture.”
Whether we become a bartender or an executive or a professor, we must act the part.
This behavior is so ingrained that many of us aren’t aware of it even as it happens.
For contrast, imagine a person who never develops such acting skills. Someone who grimaces when they dislike something you say, who always speaks their mind, and who acts the same way whether they’re talking to a child or their boss. As Greene notes, this is a person who would be “shunned, ridiculed, and despised.”
To better appreciate your own acting skills, Greene recommends paying attention as you interact with different members of your family, and with your boss and colleagues at work: “You will see yourself subtly change what you say, your tone of voice, your mannerisms, your whole body language, to suit each individual and situation.”
You wear, for example, one face when you’re trying to impress someone, and a different face if the person you’re interacting with is familiar, and you can let your guard down.
For Greene, our natural tendency to play different roles is best captured by Shakespeare in the play As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”