Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Who am I?

Look into the mirror. Take a good hard look at yourself. Who are you? How many of us can actually find one specific answer to this question? “Well”, you’d say, “I am <insert personal name here>, of course!”. But what does that mean? That is merely an identification word your parents have decided to give you. What makes you be you? “I am a teacher/doctor/lawyer/apple salesman/freelancer”, you might say. Or perhaps “I am a mother/daughter”, “I am thoughtful/impulsive/aggressive/peace loving”, “I am the best of the best!” It is amazing how many answers people can give to this question but without truly touching the point, if indeed there is a point to touch.

The nature of being is extremely malleable, and all those above are mere lively roles that cover an essence that should be common to them all. To shed more light on this, the lawyer goes to work and puts on her lawyer role and simply does the job brilliantly! Then she goes home to her husband and kids, lets aside the vicious predator lawyer role and switches to the wife and mother. We call this adequately adapting to the multitude of situations and circumstances life puts us through. But what is common to all these? What defines us, what binds all these roles together so that we remain one person, instead of a multitude of unrelated dissociations?

When we place a label on somebody (and I know we’ve been through this topic before, from an extremely basic point of view), do we label the person or the way the person reacts to the circumstance he or she is in? We talk so much about people, about the actions of individuals, but it is not so often that we put all these stories into context. We may find that labeling a person in circumstance A will prove itself completely useless once we find ourselves in circumstance B. There are two ways this error may unfold:

               1. Initial negative label contrasting following positive one/s.

For example, you have an acquaintance who, through his or her actions, has proven him/herself to be irresponsible, unpredictable and even chaotic with how they carry on with their lives. Yet in spite of this negative(ish) label, it comes to you as an unexpected surprise when this person helps you out in a moment of extreme need, without asking for anything in return, thus showing you a certain side that you have not seen in them before. Do you re-label?

2.           2. Initial positive label contrasting with newly found negative one/s.

A short example in this case: first discovering a person through their talent (and we all know how the first impression always leaves a mark), being impressed by it, appreciating it to such an extent that we convincingly label the person as pure genius! Later on, in social circumstances, you realize that the same person shows no sign of moral value towards you or others, something that heavily contradicts anything that would be labeled as “Pure Genius”. So now, you either do some re-labeling, or follow a sad path towards suffering because the person did not meet the expectation of the initial label you stuck to his/her forehead.
We must keep in mind that each label we create generates a list of expectations. If these expectations are being met, they reinforce the initial label. If not, they create confusion and can even lead to personal frustration. One must either reconsider the label or add a new one. But how does that work? How can conflicting labels coexist stuck on the same person? They can, if properly put into context. To work on the examples above:

1.       Number one can be a complete mess in his or her ‘love life’ or superficial social decisions, but a real friend when specifically needed.

2.       Number two might be pure genius in his/her field of artistic creation, but immoral and/or unreliable in other social situations.

I took the liberty of underlining the exact circumstances to which the labels of the two examples apply. Thus, even though conflicting, they can coexist in a person, because each labels one role and each role is active in a specific circumstance. But wouldn’t this be like labeling different people within one person?” you might ask. Very much so, this is the precise reason why we must focus our attention on discovering what makes all these roles activate within a certain one individual. If we manage to answer that about ourselves, we will manage, or at least be a lot closer, to knowing who we really are.

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