I saw a dying cockroach this morning. It was inside a bowl that contained a little water. I felt so uncomfortable removing it, especially as those eyes at the back of its head kept staring at me. I observed this cockroach for some minutes, wondering why it should have those big unblinking “eyes” at the back of its head. That was when it dawned on me – those weren’t eyes, they were just false eyes.
During our biology classes we were taught of false eyes found in many insects. But the examples our teachers and textbooks gave us were butterflies and moths. I never knew cockroaches had one until today. But, why would these animals have spots that look like eyes staring at their observers? And, why do those “eyes” look so threatening and bigger than the actual eyes?
There is just a simple answer to this – illusion.
The effect that cockroach created in me taught me a lot of lessons on the power of illusion. I was uncomfortable, or rather afraid of going near it because I had this unsettling feeling that it was dangerously staring at me. Even if I know it can’t harm me, I still withdrew from killing it or even going near that bowl of water because of the impression created by those eyes. That’s the power of illusion.
If you check the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary for the meaning of the term, you will see that the meaning of illusion borders around negative attribute. It is looked upon as something that shouldn’t be imbibed. In fact, a lot of people kick against it even when they partake in it unknowingly. But I want to state that illusion can be both positively and negatively utilised. I’ll explain that later.
Now, if you ask me what illusion is I’ll tell you that it is the act of making people see what you want them to see. Illusion isn’t just about the sense of sight, it appeals to all the human senses. For example, we use bouillon cubes (aka magi) that contain the dreadful monosodium glutamate to give out the illusion of great flavour and aroma for our dishes. We use perfumes to give out the illusion of cleanliness (masking our natural smells so people will think we just took our bath). Women make up and fix nails, hairs, lashes and so on just to create the illusion of beauty. You just name it.
So, when we attribute negativity to illusion, we should always remember that we partake in it, knowingly or unknowingly.
Now, over to why illusions are powerful.
When you walk into a hospital, and meet a young man in a sparkling white lab coat, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? I bet it is the fact that this young man is a medical doctor and that he can help me with your illness. I can tell you that when you want to address this young man, you will do so with much respect. If you had seen him without that lab coat, you may assume him as one of the patients and may even push him out of the way. The truth is that the young man created the illusion of superiority and you bought it immediately without waiting for him to talk to you.
Let me give another instance. You walked into a restaurant. The cool air from the AC hit you as you stepped in (meanwhile the electric door opened for you as you stepped on the threshold). You looked around. There are well-laid tables covered with immaculate white table cloths; there are “gold-plated” lit chandeliers dangling from beautifully decorated ceilings; soft music played at the background; and the floors were tiled with original porcelain tiles that reflected your image like a mirror. A waiter in sparkling white apron approached you, smiled and took you to a table beside a wall made only of glass that gave you beautiful views, and then he took your order. Let me state it here that even this people served you burnt eggs you will believe that it is a special type of dish eaten only by the high class. You know why? It is because these people have succeeded in creating the illusion of speciality and class. And one more thing, you won’t argue with whatever bill they place before you because you are “satisfied” with the burnt eggs.
Creating the right illusion is what a lot of us need. Some people create negative illusions so as to intimidate and extort while others create positive ones that endear them to people. A lot of marketers have learned this strategy and have been using it to the fullest. Other professionals that know how to use this skill (for I see it as skill) are doctors, lecturers, preachers, bankers and motivational speakers. And at home, mothers use it to keep their children on the right track.
Job seekers and students are the next people that need to learn this skill. Making your interviewer believe that you are the right person for the job is more than just answering all the questions correctly. There is a possibility that all the interviewees performed well in the interview, but the only thing that can make you stand out is by letting yourself exude that aura of confidence, which is as good as illusion (because deep down butterflies are fluttering seriously in your guts). This is still the same thing with students. The cases of sexual harassment wouldn’t be in our tertiary institutions if our students have mastered how to create that illusion that warns off predators (just like the cockroach did me today).
No matter how we look at it, we all need to learn the skill of creating the right illusions so that can save grave situations, get people to listen to us, get employment and live better and happy lives.
However, we need to be careful so we don’t create the ones that will send away our helpers.