Be yourself. Yes, but which one?
Yo peeps, and welcome to another issue of the ProtoNewsletter, where I share not only ideas, ravings, insights, and tips of dubious usefulness but also grammatical mistakes and odd phrasing.
Today we talk about finding your true self… or maybe not.
Or at least this is what who wants to encourage you to act in harmony with your true essence says.
In principle, it would also be a fine advice. The problem is that it rests on a false assumption.
To be yourself, there first needs to be a “yourself." Unfortunately (or luckily), this is just an idealized version of reality, as we might have expected from such generic advice. There is no single self, nor is there one truer than the others.
When you’re “fake,” you are yourself. You are precisely the person that behaves this way in these circumstances. Faking, imitating, or trying to impress someone, doesn’t make you a different person. If anything, it reveals your behavior in that context.
And changing behavior depending on the context is not only largely unavoidable but also desirable.
Let’s imagine you’re a cheerful person. You’re always smiling, you make jokes, you laugh abundantly, you have fun. If you were asked to define who you are, you would list these characteristics. It’s logical; this is how you behave.
Now let’s imagine an acquaintance of yours dies ✞. How would you behave at the funeral? I don’t think you’d be that joyful.
Have you suddenly became another person?
Claro que no. You’re always yourself. Your behavior depends. It’s not a monothematic script. Instead, the sensibility to understand how and when to adapt to the context is an advantage, not a defect to be corrected.
But it doesn’t stop here.
From what I’ve said, it might seem that there still is a unitary and indivisible subject behind the variety of behaviors. An individual, in its original meaning.
Even though it’s true that a person appears unitary, the behavior is not guided by a single mind but by conflicting voices. The brain, from the biological point of view, it’s not a compact block, but it’s divided into hemispheres. Each one of these controls only half of the body and is home to different abilities. The unitary appearance is due to the fact that, under normal conditions, the two hemispheres communicate with each other. But when the communication interrupts, differences become evident.
In any case, even without the need to cut connections between hemispheres, we have all experienced inconsistency and conflict. We experience them, for example, every time we know what is right to do (study, exercise, read) and we are really convinced that we want to do it, but then we don’t. It is the struggle between rationality and instinct.
Which, then, would be your true self?
PS: I’d like to clarify that I’m not 100% ass: I can understand that the advice is not to throw away completely.
First, even though each one of us looks more like a concert than a soloist, we can’t but live as if we were individuals and always equal to ourselves. It’s how we perceive ourselves by nature.
Second, in a more charitable interpretation, the “Be yourself” is a push to reflect upon who you’d like to be and to try to adjust your behavior accordingly. It’s an exhortation to emancipate yourself from the opinion of others and from cultural rules that don’t necessarily make sense.
But I wanted to question the assumption the advice rests on, as it is rare to hear something along these lines. If only because it bothers me, and I wanted to say my piece.
As it happens cyclically, I’m running low on good podcast episodes to listen to. Every time this happens, I’m reminded of how painful searching for podcasts I might like is. We live in an epoch of recommendation feeds driven by algorithms that know you better than yourself, and yet it’s still hard to discover intriguing podcasts. Podchaser aims to be a solution to the problem. But I just found it; I don’t know how well it works.
On a different note, I happened to read a small piece by the great Isaac Asimov. The Relativity of Wrong. Not everything wrong is “equally wrong.” It’s written as an answer to a person criticizing something he had said. It provides some of that satisfaction you feel when you see someone murdering by words someone else who committed the sin of misplaced arrogance.
The latest content from yours truly
I just finished translating an older post of mine, where I talk about how I started dealing with my addiction to social media:
Kind of linked to the above; I published a post where I basically overthink how to have fun. The fact is that I don’t know how to have fun and probably you don’t either. :)
Are you afraid of failure? No problem, there is no such thing. Just learn to never fail.