Friday, May 16, 2014

Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognise him.

I am often in disagreement with those that seek to impose predetermined identities on others based on race, gender, orientation, religion, etc. and then try and prescribe books based on those imposed identities. The point I always attempt to make is 1) we are a portfolio of identities and 2) our identities are subject to context, and 3) our identities evolve over time. For these reasons, I think the blind prescription is ignorant, disrespectful and counterproductive.

As often happens, eventually you find someone who has addressed this much better, much earlier. William James in his The Principles of Psychology (1890).
Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind. To wound any one of these images is to wound him. But as the individuals who carry the images fall naturally into classes, we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his 'tough' young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club-companions, to our customers as to the laborers we employ, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends. From this there results what practically is a division of the man into several selves; and this may be a discordant splitting, as where one is afraid to let one set of his acquaintances know him as he is elsewhere; or it may be a perfectly harmonious division of labor, as where one tender to his children is stern to the soldiers or prisoners under his command.

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