Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Self vs. Identity

His Self is derived from his sunglasses...
Seems to be working.
George Herbert Mead revolutionized the way that individuals think of "selves." Plainly put, the Self is the persona that one portrays. The Self is complicated, as we cannot ourselves determine... well, our Selves. In developing a Self, Mead claims this rule as truth: You are not who you think you are, you are not who others think you are, you are instead who you think others think you are... If that was complicated, think of developing a Self instead as behaving dependently on how others have communicated their favor or disfavor with you.

We humans are constantly striving to define our identities. Finding identities requires a decent amount of introspection, and we find who we think we are through analyzing our weaknesses and strengths. When people present themselves to others, more likely than not, individuals choose to "put their best foot forward" and smile big for their daily social photo op.

My conflict is thus: What am I searching for? An Identity or a Self?

Erving Goffman (you'll remember his cold cynicism from several posts back) postulated that we have no single Self. Instead, Goffman believes that the Self can adapt and change depending on the social situation. In short, we act differently with different people, thus presenting a Self to strangers and superiors that is unlike the Self that our dearest friends and family know.

Identity (as far as I've seen) is instead our striving for what about us brings meaning and individuality to our lives. Identities are wrapped up not in rituals that make us more socially acceptable, but instead are formed by the qualities that make us unique. What's your Identity?

Are you an...
Something else entirely?

I believe that our deficiencies and weaknesses are just as important in forming our identities as our strengths and the things that we want to believe about ourselves are. Embracing where we struggle can bring more than just self-pity. In recognizing weakness, individuals can instead supplement a previous approach to life with a new drive for self-improvement. And, socially speaking, what more powerful tools are there to the search for meaning than love and selflessness? The Identity is what makes us Us and not a collection of scared individuals.

The Self is instead shallow. Constant striving to change and perfect a Self is the drive of most modern consumers such as myself. I want to be flawless and perfect in the eyes of others. I assume most of my associates and the general Western population is driven in the same way. This front is detrimental in developing me into a person who understands a meaningful life... or a life lived for the betterment of others. How can mankind continue to progress into a better state with Selves that are determined to serve their own interests above Humanity's? Or, for Christians, where is there room for the Kingdom of God if we are too busy developing our Selves into desirable socialites instead of bringing love to the poor, oppressed, depressed, and hurting?

As a Christian, I choose to give my identity to God and accept that His will is one full of love and strength through self-sacrifice, even when the pain of giving is tantamount to my social discomfort. I know many of my readers are nonbelievers as well, and so I ask both Christian and nonChristian alike to embrace their weaknesses. With acknowledgment of our downfalls comes a respect for others' lackings. Find your Identity not in who you want others to think you are, but instead in who you are in actuality. True friends/community will respect that. And remember that living to develop a perfected Self is not conducive to living a life of fulfillment. It is instead taking up precious resources that could otherwise be applied to changing the world for the better.

Choosing an Identity of caring,