I’m a huge fan of the 1990s British sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances,” starring Patricia Routledge as consummate social climber Hyacinth Bucket. Oh, and that’s pronounced Bouquet, thank you very much.
Poor Hyacinth, always trying to impress with her candlelight suppers and “white slimline telephone with last number redial facility.” She can’t accept that she’s never going to get what she desperately craves: Adoration, tinged with envy.
Stranded between her upper-class sister, Violet “with the Mercedes, swimming pool and room for a pony” and her decidedly working-class sisters, Daisy and Rose, an increasingly frustrated Hyacinth can’t seem to help herself. Despite efforts of her long-suffering husband Richard and all-but-captive neighbor, Elizabeth, who lives in terror of dropping Hyacinth’s “Royal Doulton with hand-painted periwinkles,” Hyacinth remains “the Bucket woman.”
Regardless of how much she exaggerates Richard’s job responsibilities, the pains she takes to drive past certain homes at the most-opportune moment to be seen, and coordinates her overly floral outfits, everyone sees right through her–yet are still kind to her, but not necessarily about her.
Hyacinth is obviously an extreme parody of terrible insecurity, but she represents something very real. Humans are gregarious creatures and have an innate need to be accepted, to belong and feel they matter. What Hyacinth doesn’t understand is that while there is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to a certain lifestyle, she’d be more likely to achieve it if she were simply to be herself.
People in every walk of life have become very adept at hiding their flaws, feelings and shortcomings. Social media allows all of us to make our lives sound more fascinating than they are, and in some cases create an entirely non-existent world.
Public perception is important to almost everyone. Who doesn’t want to be respected and believed to be honest, smart, clever and considerate? But what happens to people who are painfully shy? What about people who have a learning difference that may make them overly self-conscious, someone suffering from depression or abuse, or people who are simply socially awkward? Sometimes, like Hyacinth, they choose to hide behind bravado, feigned self-confidence or indifference, concealing their fears or pain. When asked if anything is wrong, they’ll usually say, “I’m fine.”
With so much illusion around us, it’s becoming more important than ever that we take time to listen and learn to look past the surface and what we expect to see–or what others want us to see. Novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch said, “We all live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find realty.”