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Developing a Sense of Self

Sample Paper 2 - Spring 2012

I'm going to be discussing the realm of developing a sense of self and how this relates most pointedly to the societal norms of our mother culture. One would think that finding oneself would lead outside any "norms" as we generally think we are somehow unique and not as influenced by our culture as we pervasively are. Instead we are shown the way of our people immediately through agents of socialization and institutions such as the hospital we were born and medical offices thereafter for check-ups. In elementary school we are shown and taught the one right way to behave and we are punished when we misbehave. So begins the start of what might be a lifetime of staying neatly in the box that our culture has shaped for us. Deviance means disapproval from the mainstream masses and often severe punishment. So, when we are driven to go inside and find ourselves, what do we see? We first see a lot of images, I believe, of expectations and norms and paths to an ideal that our culture finds the most promising (usually through power, property and prestige). We must go passed these images to the root of who we are and for a lot of people, societal expectations imposed upon us from childhood go so deep that we must burn everything to see a clean slate of potential.

A lot of people choose to go outside of their own culture to 'find themselves' and depart to India for a few months or to travel through Europe. Being exposed to other cultures may in fact shed light on how steeped in our own culture, and ethnocentric, we truly are. Some might say that the way to develop a sense of self is to go to a culture most different from your own and see what is there, fundamentally at the heart of all human beings. This perhaps is a starting place. For those who aren't ready for such an adventure of self/world discovery, we must look to what feels true regardless of other's ideas, striving and limitations. Others might argue that the way to truly develop a sense of self is to more greatly accept and own your own societal traditions and reinforce them within yourself until you feel so steeped in your own way of life that you now feel you have found yourself within your culture and existing only because of your culture.

Our culture has a way of perpetuating itself by using societal norms which are on a spectrum from strictly enforced (death sentence, imprisonment) to socially enforced (frowns, lowered gazes of disapproval). We have interaction norms for every sort of interaction or pairing between people. When these norms are deviated the energy between the people and those surrounding becomes very uncomfortable and feels immediately somehow unsafe and unprotected. If a male hippie in his 60s went up to a wall street businessman in his 60s and gave him a hug that businessman might very well call the police for the hippie's unclear intentions when the hippie was clearly just giving away some free love. How strange that the slightest deviation from interaction norms can stir up such feelings of vulnerability and fear. We expect to live in a world that bleeds order and separation into groups of like minded people. When there is an intermingling out of the context of normal behavior our worlds quickly turn upside down as we are not sure how to behave if others aren't held accountable to behave as is expected and most comfortable.

In our society we perhaps feel that in order to survive we must be divided into groups. These first reference groups are primary, our family, etc., and secondary, as in the friends we often choose to be with. We form or point out subcultures and countercultures that have great connotation/feeling and stereotype attached to them. We consider and live by the way of us versus them most of the time instead of us with them or all of us. I believe this comes for our culture's basic belief in scarcity. If we truly felt we had enough of everything then perhaps we would not feel the need to segregate to protect ourselves and continue our domination or subsistence. We define ourselves by the groups we are in and we also define ourselves by how we believe others view us and the groups we are in.

As Ishmael taught, we are so steeped in our mother culture and the way of the takers that we do not see how influenced and contrived our every belief is. The way the world came to be as it is has a great deal of weight on the fact that we have believed that the world was made for humans. More specifically, the world was made for human consumption. However, as we conquer the world ever more, we kill ourselves. I believe we have been able to distance the devastation of the world so much from ourselves that it appears as something that won't touch us personally, or perhaps the changes will be so gradual that we will simply take them as they come and nothing too severe will rock us off our ship or spin us off our axis. Because the devastation of the world happens gradually, over time and with great benefit to our egos and status in the interim (as in driving big gas guzzling cars) we feel perhaps unmoved to change drastically as we don't see the environmental affects happening in our world now as being easily improved by just our switch to a hybrid or our volunteering to take mass transit.

I believe that if Quinn asked Ishmael the way to find and develop ones sense of self Ishmael would first ask Quinn about the culture the person was coming from. I'm not sure if we could distance ourselves enough to look outside of our own cultural beliefs and societal intentions for a productive member of society, so most likely we would try to find a working model of a self that fits perfectly into the order of our society. If we could not, we are deemed as outcasts or primitive in nature. I have defined my sense of self in many ways throughout the years through reference groups and subcultures and checking in with my family and closest friends through mirroring and seeing how others observe me. I have considered myself an outcast at times and have went against the grain on many things at various times in my life. Luckily for me, I have remained safe while doing so, in that my deviation from ideal societal norms have been relatively neutrally responded to, though seen as lesser, not seen as punishable. For example, I left college after my first year because I did not want to participate just because I was being fed that I had to in order to be successful. It felt like a rate race and I wanted something that felt more authentic. I have been back in college for some time now and taking classes I find very enjoyable. I still struggle with playing the game simply to get a degree so I can have that profound positive social sanction. I have found the constant of love and compassion and an inherent desire for self-love and healing both myself and others to be the basis of my sense of self. I am not sure, to tell you the truth, if this has my mother culture stamped all over it, or if this is something that would be found within myself regardless of the culture or society I belonged in any time/space reality.