Self and Other

T. S. Eliot writes about the power we can give to others.  We can let others tell us who we are.  Eliot’s poetry goes:

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

How do we begin to declare who we are when others decide who we are, treat us according to their understanding of us, and pin us to a wall?  When I was in high school, there were jocks, bikers, and hippies.  I identified with the hippies and looked like one, but my best friend was an all-state wrestler.  We can see ourselves according to the category we fall into.  In high school, pressures are extreme when it comes to emotional survival and identity.  And the answer to self and other can become identification with a peer group.  Then where is the self?

Things continue in this vein when we enter adulthood, though with less extreme pressure.  People can become identified with their role in life.  How others see us can depend on the money we make, the job we do and how important that job is, the things we possess, our social graces, our families.  I remember when I had graduated with a master’s degree and did’t know what my next step in life would be.  I was applying to Ph.D. programs, but didn’t know if I would be accepted.  This period of uncertainty occupied about 6-months.  I didn’t have an identity.  When people asked me what I do for a living, I didn’t have an answer, and people didn’t know what to do with me.  I know of people whose life centres around their family.  Their primary relations are with their spouse and children.  Some of them do not know how to relate to the world outside their families.

The question is one of self and other.  How do we relate to others?  When a person expends much effort creating a public persona–buying the right things, talking in the “in” language–and this includes the social graces, functioning in a profession that grants prestige and dignity, one can actually become very lonely.  One’s soul no longer communicates with others in an honest way.  In religion, this would be called “worldliness.”  There are other issues.  Some indulge in substances.  Consider drinking.  A whole culture surrounds drinking.  There are drinking games.  There are drinking parties–knowing how to party can be important.  There is a whole bar culture that any alcohol commercial sells.  Then there is a luxury car that says exceptional people make the rules–they don’t follow them.  But buying that car is what makes a person exceptional, along with following the surfing culture which is a “cool” thing to do.  These examples show how identity is falsely created by dependance on things external to the self.  Self can be very lonely when one depends on extrinsic things for identity.

Self confidence gives one the freedom to be authentic.  And this means being authentic with everyone–spouse, friends, co-workers.  An old rock group sings, “You know who you are, you don’t give a damn.”  I asked a native elder about moving away from home and loneliness.  His response was similar.  “If you are firmly grounded in who you are, there is no loneliness.”  Being who one truly is, and encountering other in that capacity is the only solution that gives true relationship and community.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Daedalus Lex
    Jan 11, 2017 @ 01:51:56

    It’s always nice to see someone pull something clear and meaningful from that difficult T. S. Eliot poem 🙂

    Like

    Reply

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