I came across one a couple of years back when I was viewing a list of great quotes. It was attributed to a writer named Kurt Vonnegut. Ok, I’m sure I’m among the unenlightened here, but I never heard of him. Regardless, the quote is worth pondering a moment.
As social creatures, we are sensitive to how others react to us, and we seem prone to seek these others approval, respect and/or acceptance. We’re rewarded for appearing as others expect us to appear, and punished if we don’t. The rewards might be acceptance or approval of us by them, or a noticeable level of respect from them, which reinforces this presentation of ourselves in future behavior.
Punished, on the other hand, doesn’t mean we are beat up in some physical manner (though it might, I suppose) or something, but is more of an awareness that we are not getting what we want or need from others.
From grade school all the way through high school, we referred to it as peer pressure. That something that young people do that gets them what they want. I guess this ends when we become 20 years old or so. I never really hear any more about it after that point. We apparently think that after those years, we are magically on our way to becoming healthy, self-functioning individuals in society.
What really seems to be happening is that we are simply becoming less clear as to when we are pretending and when we are not. I suppose the succession of choices we make as we wander our way through life can certainly make us wonder who we really are at any single point. Is this me? Really me? Or is it the person I’ve chosen to be today for the purposes I seek to achieve – status, positions, money, and respect.
It is interesting to note that the study of personality is about this business of individuals becoming who they are, or at least appear to be. The word personality, derived from the Latin word persona, is quite telling in itself.
In Jungian thought, persona is “the mask or façade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or the environment” (dictionary.com).
Hmmm… sounds exceedingly pragmatic, thus, sort of the opposite of genuine or true. A mask presented to satisfy the demands of the situation…
So, who is that masked man!?
I always chuckle when I hear phrases like “I’m my own person” or “I don’t care what other people think” or “I don’t pay attention to what others think of me.”
It is no easy task to know our true self. Can one separate the mask from the person behind the mask? After years of forming the mask, it is difficult to tell the genuine from the façade.
Do they simply become one, like some composite of the pretended person and the true? Would I even like the real me, whoever that is?
I consider myself a reflective person, but also quite pragmatic. Can the pragmatist truly know the idealist? But then again, I’m an idealist to quite a degree, as well. Confusing.
It’s as if I have lived my whole life in a Matrix of my own making. Yet, I don’t know how it was constructed or how it fundamentally operates. It just is.
I’m like an enigma, to myself. A complex riddle that I suspect will not be solved.
It appears I am who I’ve pretended to be, and will continue to pretend to be. Can it really be any other way?
Here’s the quote.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Kurt Vonnegut
About the Author: Master Hobbit