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Social Suggestion
by [?]

The question of how far we are unconsciously influenced by people and surroundings, in our likes and dislikes, our opinions, and even in our pleasures and intimate tastes, is a delicate and interesting one, for the line between success and failure in the world, as on the stage or in most of the professions, is so narrow and depends so often on what humor one’s “public” happen to be in at a particular moment, that the subject is worthy of consideration.

Has it never happened to you, for instance, to dine with friends and go afterwards in a jolly humor to the play which proved so delightful that you insist on taking your family immediately to see it; when to your astonishment you discover that it is neither clever nor amusing, on the contrary rather dull. Your family look at you in amazement and wonder what you had seen to admire in such an asinine performance. There was a case of suggestion! You had been influenced by your friends and had shared their opinions. The same thing occurs on a higher scale when one is raised out of one’s self by association with gifted and original people, a communion with more cultivated natures which causes you to discover and appreciate a thousand hidden beauties in literature, art or music that left to yourself, you would have failed to notice. Under these circumstances you will often be astonished at the point and piquancy of your own conversation. This is but too true of a number of subjects.

We fondly believe our opinions and convictions to be original, and with innocent conceit, imagine that we have formed them for ourselves. The illusion of being unlike other people is a common vanity. Beware of the man who asserts such a claim. He is sure to be a bore and will serve up to you, as his own, a muddle of ideas and opinions which he has absorbed like a sponge from his surroundings.

No place is more propitious for studying this curious phenomenon, than behind the scenes of a theatre, the last few nights before a first performance. The whole company is keyed up to a point of mutual admiration that they are far from feeling generally. “The piece is charming and sure to be a success.” The author and the interpreters of his thoughts are in complete communion. The first night comes. The piece is a failure! Drop into the greenroom then and you will find an astonishing change has taken place. The Star will take you into a corner and assert that, she “always knew the thing could not go, it was too imbecile, with such a company, it was folly to expect anything else.” The author will abuse the Star and the management. The whole troupe is frankly disconcerted, like people aroused out of a hypnotic sleep, wondering what they had seen in the play to admire.

In the social world we are even more inconsistent, accepting with tameness the most astonishing theories and opinions. Whole circles will go on assuring each other how clever Miss So-and-So is, or, how beautiful they think someone else. Not because these good people are any cleverer, or more attractive than their neighbors, but simply because it is in the air to have these opinions about them. To such an extent does this hold good, that certain persons are privileged to be vulgar and rude, to say impertinent things and make remarks that would ostracize a less fortunate individual from the polite world for ever; society will only smilingly shrug its shoulders and say: “It is only Mr. So-and-So’s way.” It is useless to assert that in cases like these, people are in possession of their normal senses. They are under influences of which they are perfectly unconscious.