I am not one of those people who greatly enjoys show and ceremony for their own sakes. I suppose I’m too plain of a person in my own habits and manners (such as they are) to appreciate and enjoy formality for the sake of formality in the way that others often do. I would be curious to understand life on the other side, so if there is anyone who reads this who greatly enjoys pomp and ceremony, I would be curious as to what about it is so enjoyable to you. I do not hate it myself, but what enjoyment I have is my enjoyment with being around others, not my enjoyment of the ceremony and formality itself.
When I look at ceremony, I am always careful to recognize that such ceremony is always filled with artifice, which automatically puts me on my guard against it. There is nothing inherently wrong with most ceremony, which seeks to present an image of strength and competence to the outside world, basking in the applause and adulation of the audience. But, we must remember that it is an artifice and that it does not necessarily represent the real thoughts of others. If we look at the show and think that the cheering and adoring crowds reflect the real feelings and opinions of others, we are likely to be sorely disappointed if and when we find out the generally more complicated reality.
So long as we are not dazzled by the spectacle and pageantry of the ceremony we see around us, we are free to appreciate the proper role and perspective of ceremony. The proper role of ceremony, insofar as it is worthwhile at all, is to either bring honor and glory to those who are not the planners and powerful people who plan such ceremonies (like graduation ceremonies, which really honor the graduates, even if most of the ceremony is based upon honoring the institution itself), or to present a vision of how life should be to encourage people to live according to their ideals. Like everything else in this world, though, ceremony is easily perverted from these noble purposes of giving honor to others or giving a vision of a better future into serving to prop up the insecurities of the people planning and organizing such ceremonies, so that the ceremony becomes selfishly motivated.
The greater the elite status of the person hosting a ceremony, the less genuine the response of the audience. Before we get caught up in the idolatry of the masses, we must be careful to realize that not only we but also they are self-interested, desiring close proximity to power and influence and enjoying the perks that one receives. We must also recognize that those who appreciate the ceremony will self-select themselves to attend such ceremonies. We do not invite our enemies to our weddings and graduations–nor would they wish to come to wish us well. It is the people who love us and care about us that come to cheer us on and give us support and encouragement, and while we all need that cheer and support and encouragement, we cannot assume that everyone loves us simply because everyone we see at a given ceremony appears to enjoy the show.
A good show and a good spectacle is at times necessary, because we all need ceremonies to remind us of the importance of life’s changes and to share our joys with those who care about us. But ceremony is only part of what shows a good relationship between ourselves and others. Though I can speak with little knowledge of this state myself, except as an outside observer, marriage is a great example of the wide gulf between ceremony and reality. A husband and wife begin their journey together in what is usually a fairly fancy ceremony, and then realize that it is easy to take photos and cut wedding cake, and a lot harder to come to terms with the differences in the way people think and behave and live on a day-to-day basis. All too often we underestimate the difficulties of bringing two separate lives into harmony and unity.
And this is no less true in other walks of life. We can all paste on a smile for a few hours and wave and cheer and nod happily, and pretend that everything is alright, no matter what we really think and feel. Knowing that we are dissemblers who regularly pretend to feel better and happier than we really are, we ought to be less easily deceived by the dissembling of others, particularly if they understand what sort of surface appearance we desire of them. If we have enough money and power and influence, and we want someone to act happy and act as if they adore us, most people will be willing to put on a good show, regardless of what they really think or feel. We cannot confuse appearances and reality.
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, we have to ask ourselves what we want most of all. If want the reality of our relationships to be good, we must be willing to examine ourselves and able to hear and accept the truths told to us by others that are often unpleasant to hear. If we know our intentions we are easily blinded to how others see what we say and do, thinking that others will see us for who we are, when that is often not the case. If we want to look good, or feel as if others care for us, then we may be content with empty ceremonies devoid of genuine feeling. If we want things to be good, we have to have open and honest communication with others, and be able to take what they have to say and to respect the sincerity of it. We could all stand to be better both at giving and receiving genuine communications, so that our ceremonies and public appearance may express our true feelings without any taint of coercion or pretense. I know that I could certainly stand to improve in these matters.