Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Social Mask and Being your True Self

Man and woman with elegant carnival masks
If you cannot trust yourself, who can you trust? All our existence is shaped by our perception, our personal phenomenological world. The exterior world needs to make sense to us; otherwise we either continuously live in fantasy or in constant confusion.

One of the arising problems, however, comes from the fact that we are told and evaluated by everyone (such as, media, school, parents, and friends) what is acceptable in our behavior and attitudes. Organized religion tries to taint and control our perception of “phenomena”, the outside world, by (force?)feeding us spiritual ideas and conceptions, attempting to guide also our life in the “noumena”, our own interior world.

It comes as no surprise that we often end up feeling insecure and divided. There are certain things we cannot or rather should not do or say in the presence of others, hence we need to create our social persona, our social mask that we show others, that we let the outside world see.

Sometimes it is just a more polite and controlled version of our true self; in other cases, it is contradictory to it. In the latter cases, we may experience stress because of incongruity or we may just distance ourselves with the treacherous aid of hypocrisy. It seems all right in either case to play another role, an actor for the social strata, but, in reality, we may be the exact opposite and suffer from it internally.

However, if we can find a way to harmonize our own way of being with our social self (or if at least they are not too far apart), then we may feel at ease with and within ourselves and be at home in our own skin. To be oneself, if by this we mean a 100% congruence of how we feel and a spontaneous expression thereof, may not always be advisable though.

In fact, it could get us into a lot of trouble, especially when the feelings are of an aggressive nature or when they are conflicting or when those actions might be reckless and put ourselves or others in danger. In some instances, it would be better not to act upon those harmful desires. I think that sometimes we need to curb, “sacrifice” or give up certain desires for the sake of overall peace and harmony.

But as long as we are true to the core values of who we are in terms of personal integrity and honesty, and we have an acute awareness regarding the social mask we are wearing; as long as we inherently know that it is just a role society wants and actually needs us to play - both for our own safety and for that of others - we should be fine with integrating those parts into our own fully embodied personality.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Unsung Hero: The Daily Struggles of the Ordinary Person

Man hailed as hero for slaying animal
Our definition of hero is someone who is charged and loaded with various attributes and characteristics. It is often equally based on looks and physical and / or mental skills. Traditionally, we expect a hero to be brave and unafraid of difficult challenges and life-threatening obstacles.

The extraordinary features of the context and the risks involved would render the hero more valuable and more refined. For example, a person who saves a cat from a tree is not on par with one who jumps into a streaming river to save a struggling child.

In the second case, the hero has put his or her own life in danger to save the child. Apart from the risk and danger factor, the case also stands out because cats on trees is a less extraordinary event. The ordinary is generally not regarded as that interesting. The person who in dramatic fashion saves or rescues somebody is more easily conceived as a hero than someone who spends his time and energy to make ends meet for his family, for instance.

There is a simple reason for that perception: Time. The extraordinary happens at a specific instance and makes the snapshot-act unique. The fact that the event happened once and all of a sudden gives it its necessary momentum and significance. If the child were to fall into the river every week, and the hero would save her each time, the whole heroic act would be reduced to a simple duty or task. People would eventually lose interest and stop hailing the hero.

As such, the strains and efforts produced by the everyday working individual is not apparent at first glance. Once these persons have reached old age, we might think of them as heroes in retrospect, that is, after judging all the accomplishments and contributions, something like a "life achievement award" if you will.

But also because many people are struggling in the same or similar manner the situation loses its uniqueness and its heroic appeal and potential. This is a dangerous fallacy though. The hero who saves somebody on one occasion has definitely done a good deal, but he or she cannot rest on their laurels.

It is rather more heroic to fight against the ordinary tasks and duties. Accomplishing one's work in an efficient manner despite its difficulties and looming boredom and triviality, providing food and shelter to one's family, being a loyal and trustworthy person, these are all characteristics of the unsung hero.

Life is a harder and more drawn-out struggle than the streaming river. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard points out that simply because of its triviality, everyday life is a much more contentious battle. It requires stamina and persistence, devotion, and dedication. These are not the usual flashy attributes of a celebrated hero. But they are heroes in their own right, much more so because they do not demand attention or recognition for their deeds.