Saturday, June 27, 2009

You are what you do: Job Impressions, Serial Killers and our Different Selves

photocopier at the workplace

What you do for a living often reflects how you are seen and responded to in society. It is an immediate quick judgment that one makes on the other, and so the question of what one does becomes what one is.

Most of our judgments on professions are based on stereotypes that we and society have accumulated over time. It even spills over to personal characteristics that we attribute to the person. For example, when we think of an accountant or lawyer various characteristics are immediately triggered. Meeting psychologists makes us extra-cautious as we assume they may analyze us and dig out our flaws and emotional problems. And a clown or comedians ought to be funny at all times, and we are shocked when we see them in their serious and bad moods.

It really comes down to age-old philosophical questions of appearance and reality. In Plato's Republic, Socrates is asked how one can recognize a just person, how one knows for sure that he or she is just; they can be evil and unethical and yet project a false and deluding image of perfect justice. As Kierkegaard states the internal is not the external, that many people wear masks and keep their secrets away from the public consciousness.

Pretense and role-playing has become one of the major skills of serial killers, for example. They can fill us with a false sense of security and win our trust to our own peril. In many cases, we are shocked and stunned of how a friendly and helpful individual could have fooled us and hidden away his real serial killer face, while keeping the bodies stashed up in his basement.

The confusion probably exists because we end up having or creating various selves. People relate or get to know only a few at a time. Our co-workers get to see one side of us, and since we want to give off an image of a responsible and keen employee, we would try our best to protect that image. This may slightly alter if one of the co-workers wins our trust, and we open up to that person and share confidential information that rings truer to who we are.

Equally people may relate to one another as a sibling, husband or wife, child, friend, and there is not always a complete overlap among each of these personalities. We may not use the same language and innuendo with our spouse than with an old high-school friend. Shared experiences bind us, and this bond reflects various different personality characteristics, and, over time, we perfect that image to become consistent so that we can get closer to our - and society's - view on what constitutes an ideal parent, friend, son or daughter.

So like the tip of the iceberg one's profession may give us an inkling of what the person is like, but the larger pieces are actually hidden beneath the surface of the water. One should not rush to a rash judgment but be open to explore and dive in to get to know the person a little better; yet to fully know a person may be an impossible feat as we generally have a hard time figuring ourselves out.

1 comment:

new illuminati said...

Whenever one asks a child, "What do you want to be when you grow up," one is really teaching them to confuse 'being' with 'doing'.
I am not what I do. I am what I am (and I likes what I yam, I'm Popeye the sailor man!).
This is the source of much confusion - however the authority vested in authoritarian and professional figures is a deliberately fostered attitude of subservience. Doctors and politicians rely on this subservience for various reasons.
As Michael Moorcock pointed out, it's much easier to run a hospital when all the patients are asleep.
It's much healthier to consider oneself a Renaissance Man or Woman than a narrowly constricted and purblind specialist.