Dec 5, 2010

Do NOT "be your self", if that even means anything!!

One of the most over-used over-rated and faux-wise formulations of the modern/postmodern era is the jaded idea of “being your self”. I have, upon hearing it ad nauseum now, come to absolutely despise it. When one actually does sit down to analyze what good there is to it, one finds nothing but a sack of entangled contradictions.


We all have either multiple selves or a 
multifaceted self but NOT a unitary self
To begin with, most people are remarkably ignorant about what is it that their selves really are. In fact to be certain, there really is not a coherent monolithic self-contained thing as the “self”. The author undertook to examine different theoretical traditions in scholastic disciplines devoted, in part, to the understanding of this elusive construct of "self", a construct which has found its way into widespread use in everyday language but remains frustratingly  hard to precisely define or articulate even. While there are divergences, what forms the common denominator of all “self” traditions (incl. in psychology and psychoanalysis), is that self is an ensemble of many things... a constellation of multiply realized ideas, schemas, memories, and emotional complexes. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of it, it’d be sufficient for us to distill out of the foregoing that there is no one, stable definite thing as a self – its very "thingness" is suspect - which fundamentally eats into the premise of “being yourself”.


Now apart from phenomenological nitpickings, there is also, in my opinion a more compelling case, to reject the notion of “being your self”- and that’s a simple argument for progress, for development, for being better than who you are today, tomorrow. Simply construed, it says that a better standard for responsible and optimum adult behavior is not “being your self” but “trying to be who you want to be” – there ought to be nothing scornful about it. The essence of a meaningful life is the perception of a deficit, one that is compelling enough to make you want to live, at least, just long enough to make good that deficit.  In fact, it may be clearly seen that considered additively, the whole aggregate of such deficits is what would equivalently correspond, to the aggregate of the sense of meaning in life. So every moment every action ought to be somehow a contribution towards lessening of the sum total of those felt deficits. While some deficits are recurrent and periodical in nature – like the physiological deficit of calories or the dehydrative deficit of water  – they ought to be taken care, by such actions and at such points in time, as rendered helplessly necessary. 

While some of the more abstract deficits , the ones which possibly arise due to the inherent and innate craving for perfection and take the form of varied narcissistic ideals in all of us, impelling us to enliven in our inner world some representation of an ‘ideal self’ and constantly appraise our ‘current self’ against it or in contrast with it. It is such a deficit that constitutes a striving for ‘meaning’ in life, meaning as in an instinctual sense, not intellectual. If this is what provisions the motive force of human behavior then a denial of this fundamental tendency, repression of this instinctual wish and imposition of an artificially generated external norm instead – is putting the cart before the horse and then futilely flogging the horse with a foolish expectation of making  it function more effectively. 

Coercing anyone into “be your self” (where self is mostly ascriptive identities which are socially construed and more often than not borne out of the power relations in a society), either directly by words spoken to such effect or indirectly by subtle mockery, sarcasm and depreciative humor or by any other means howsoever employed, especially when one is trying to be better than what one is at the moment - is advocating a cruel, needless and an abhorrent denial of the purest, most uncompromised springwell of human thought, feeling and behavior, viz., the need to be better, the competency motivation, the intrinsic goal of task mastery, the motive of gaining a more effective control of one’s transactions with reality - something which makes absolute adaptive, emotional, ethical and rational sense. What completes my case though, is the consideration of what usually precipitates when one dogmatically attempts to live up to the false ideal of “being who one is”. For starters, one is forced to force-fit one’s  self-definition into the narrow and static contours of a limited number of socially salient traits – a huge fallacy, as the “self” is dynamic, multiplexed and continually evolving and as such does not lend itself to definitions and standardizations (in an idiographic perspective at least). So there goes one. But even if one is so inclined so as to accomplish this non-task of explicit and stereotypic self definition – the next pitfall is the pre-imagined and persistent ‘script’ of behavior that one must then live up to for being consistent with the self so defined – again a complete travesty of experience as it at once diminishes the behavioral options that may be available to the will of the individual and fetters spontaneity in a cage of restrictive normative prescriptions that attend a particular self-definition and un-attend others.

Perhaps the apparently strongest argument thrown around by the “being your self” evangelists in everyday discourse, is not mighty much more than an invocation of the imagined ‘ease of others’ in ‘dealing with and accepting’ you as a person if you just “be your self”, as that is assumed to somehow constitute “honest” interpersonal and social behavior. Not only is it hypocritical, unnatural and miserly in a cognitive sense, but also a sign of collective emotional immaturity in cultures which consider this an acceptable justification. "Being your self" then is a meme that reinforces status-quoist and regressive social processes. A social order and its constituent norms, cannot and ought not be based on the suppression of a rather useful aspect human nature, one which pushes us to be better people, one that rejects the "is-ness" of life in favor of "ought-ness". People must accept people as not “what they are” but also, and more so, as “who they are trying to be” and as individuals constantly looking to stretch the limits of what it is possible for them to be and become.

Finally we may deal with the socially-conditioned conscience, the morality, the superego, the ‘guilt producing mechanism’ in our heads that arouses shame, anxiety, helplessness and worthlessness when one is confronted with a natural desire to improve and be ‘something else(better)’ against the socio-cultural norm of “being your self”. What is emphasized by traditionalists here is that one ought to “accept” who one is, that one ought not to be “insecure” about one’s self-identity. This is just utter hogwash.  There is nothing, ABSOLUTELY nothing in the nature of acceptance about “being your self” – in fact how the dictum is usually employed, it is more akin to a REJECTION of all that you want to be, all that you could be, all that you ought to try hard to be. It is a rejection masquerading as an acceptance. Insecurity on the other hand, is a perfectly normal and in fact an ESSENTIAL experience of human existence, there is nothing abnormal or pathological about insecurity. Insecurity is nothing but one of the many explicit experiences of the aggregate deficits, or any component part thereof, that we spoke of above. Insecurity is not to be fought against, it is not to be resisted, not to be exiled into some deep dark recess of our subconscious mind – but is to be understood, to be comprehended and to be constructively dealt with, by trying to make good that deficit which causes insecurity – and not by a rejection of the very cause by an inane submission to fate, like resigning to just  ”being yourself”


Don't simply be "your self".... Be better!!
Be not concerned by the bourgeois social scorn 
contained in the exhortation "be your self"
A Human being, unlike non-sentient objects, is not best understood as something “that is”, but better as something that “is trying to be”.  This recognition ought to be incorporated into the basis of our intra-personal, inter-personal, social and universal ethic and also in our attempts at self-definition. So don’t  be your self as you are– be something more, something better and never just ‘be’ but always ‘be-coming’.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...