Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Me, Myself, and I: Thoughts About Socially Constructed Identities

Me: (object) The canvas where society projects it's understanding of language and culture. 

Myself: (subject) The reflexive battleground where preconceived notions will be accepted as truths or faced and defeated.  

I: (agency) A higher or lower synthesis that determines if society was right in the original classification process. 

All of us are born into cultures that have their own system for placing people in categories that govern social interactions. Any and every discernible difference can be used as the basis for these classifications. At an elementary level, we're all aware of these distinctions; however, too few of us are willing to admit that these categories- no matter how good or bad- are a constitutive part of language. Dialogue would be impossible without enough mutually shared concepts, symbols, and gestures. When someone says she's attractive, I have know what that means based on my conception and understanding of beauty. Likewise, the first judgments we receive are a reflection of the category the person doing the interpreting places us in. We're powerless to affect the initial judgments cast upon us: what the culture says about us may be in conflict with who we are, but this antinomy is part of the "me" problem.  

The curse of self-fulfilling prophecy is an invisible struggle for those on the bottom of the socioeconomic and racial ladder. Too many kids are living a life based on the lowered expectations of others. When society says you're (x), but your true identity is closer to (y) self-doubt can make bad decisions look reasonable. (Myself) is the interpersonal battleground where the fight against negative imagery takes place. Without positive reinforcement during the developmental years this task can be virtually impossible for kids dealing with negative self imagery. As adults we have to be cognizant of the role we play in helping a child cultivate a self. Every ounce of self-esteem we have has roots in love that we weren't responsible for receiving. As a nation we've bought into the lie that we, as individuals, are solely responsible for our successes and failures. When there's a breakdown in the positive feedback loop it can amplify self-doubt in the mind of highly impressionable kids: Am I a good person, or is grandma just being nice? If my community sees me as a decent person, why can't greater society see me the same way? These types of questions are important. 

In a perfect world we would be judged by our consistent efforts and actions. (I am) is a powerful declaration. If (I am) isn't reflected in (I do) then a closer look at the process is necessary. We can have a number of identities projected onto us, but it's our responsibility to make sure the negative ones aren't true. We can't force people to respect us. The initial judgments we face are part of life: they will always be there, but we don't have to be a prisoner to them. If we allow perceptions to define us they can stifle our growth and limit our agency. Don't try to restructure the history of social interactions: you'll fail. We need to learn as much about the past as possible in order to get a better understanding of how to shape the future. Ultimately, the most important judgement we face will be reflected back at us in a mirror. (I) is where the good stuff happens. (I) allows us to determine our outcomes. (I) doesn't have to worry about the way society views us because (I) knows they are wrong. Bondage doesn't need physical shackles to be effective, but once you overcome the power of society's judgement: you will never be the victim of anyone's opinion.