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Monday, October 8, 2012

Learning To Live With My "Self"

Maintaining a sense of "self" is very important to me. Often, as I interact with others in various endeavors, I notice my “self” pushes into conversations and discussions. Since I normally question anything or anyone that opposes my particular understandings, I am quick (often too quick) to put my “two cents worth” into the arena. I understand that passive acceptance and maintaining silence have great value; however, being quiet is definitely not one of my strengths.

Sometimes I speak out because I don't fully understand the essence of something and my “self” needs clarification. Sometimes I do this because I feel my opposing point of view may be important to consider. Sometimes I do this to play the devil's advocate. And, sometimes I do this simply because my big, egotistical mouth flaps before I think.

Maintaining self cuts two ways. When I share personal views that benefit others who do not articulate their beliefs, I feel my words have made a positive difference and have filled a void. But, when I speak out and the words serve only me, the behavior degrades my character. Over the years I believe I have gained a degree of wisdom in choosing to defend my views. That understanding, however, does not excuse the obvious mistakes my “self” continues to make.

My Conscious Brain
My “self” is a consciousness rooted in my individual physiology as it is represented in the neurons and synapses of my brain. As I begin to know certain objects and understand concepts, I develop important intellectual concepts. This learning manifests as it acquires unique behaviors from the vast assembly of my nerve cells. Yet, my “self” is more than just brain matter and brain interaction.
My Acquisition of Memory
My self is also represented by the totality of what I am – all things physical, biological, psychological, social, and cultural. I possess a compilation of personal memories I have acquired that links self to my identity. In other words, my “self” can also be considered an autobiographical creation of unique facts and ways of being that characterize “things that have been.” As I mature, my “self” depends strongly upon this historical memory bank for relevant reference.
My Learned Perceptions
Much of “who I am” – a single, bounded, living organism – depends upon my actions that guarantee my survival and contribute to maintain stability in my life. I set certain boundaries and occasionally redefine them to assure my “self” continues to live and contribute instead of to deteriorate and die. My boundaries do not always coincide with those set by others. These guidelines are set according to my personal perception.  
Many of the boundaries of my “self” are formed through positive experiences and reward, yet some are even formed through the acquisition of pain, or the sensory representation of living tissue dysfunction. In this way, my “self” maps its territory to enhance its survival. These maps aid my “self” to perceive the layout of different environments and judge the potential of good or harm in these places.

The Complete Self
As my brain's prefrontal cortx binds together my memories and my perceptions, my true “self” emerges – a unity of feeling of “who I am.” I believe in my individuality and seek particular “self development” in those with whom I interact. I detest a bland world of grey souls bent on mass producing human “self” in the name of fashion and passive conformity. How can vital energy and unique thought develop if everyone practices a single set of understandings? For this reason, I detest generalizations of character and thought such as “conservative” or “liberal” or “middle class” or “disadvantaged.” I see no advantage of seizing group thought in the name of "self" control.
The emotions I feel; the thoughts I have; the beliefs, desires and intentions I form; the ability I have to communicate with others, both non verbally and verbally; and the ability I possess to understand what others are thinking and feeling denote my “self.”

All of these things must constantly come to terms with opposition and reside in a brain that is open to acceptance or denial of new thought and new experience. Why? Because a wide range of lifelong experiences and changing interpretations give rise to the better development of “self” as an important sign of mature individuality.

In truth, my “self” is not static; it is added to and subtracted from by genetic maturation, learning, forgetting, stress, aging, and disease. These factors influence my inner core and the outer manifestations of “what I have become.” Try as I might to maintain consistency, I know my altered personality projects an image of ever-adjusting “self.” I accept this and deal with the alterations.

To me, however, change does not mean one should discard his individuality, nor does it mean he should completely redefine his “self.” I think alteration is necessary, particularly in the face of reason, but a person has a real challenge to accept this adaptation within the framework of his physiological abilities, his memory, and his individual perceptions.

To me, the flaws and weaknesses of my “self” are better made transparent than to remain buried under any need I may feel to promote a false, glowing character. This is one reason I hope to enrich my life through my experiences and my perceptions of a populace with vastly different personalities who deal with their survival in vastly different ways. I hope that my “self” never stops learning from diversity as I hear and evaluate the particular “voice” of all human beings.

Do I judge? Of course, I judge within the boundaries of my “self.” I understand what is “right” or “wrong” based on my views. How else can I enrich my particular understandings and contribute any of my limited skills without judging the merit of any proposal? I must listen to others yet be true to my “self.” At the same time, I must evaluate the positive or negative nature of altering my point of view and make changes in it when reason requires.

Just a View or Two of My Own Contradictory "Self"
I'm not much for the bandwagon, but I have ridden a few.

I don't know what is going to send your soul to hell, yet I believe all sinners have a chance for heaven.

I get nervous when others ignore the “lone voice” or the “alternate idea,” but I believe in the strength of grass roots numbers.

I frequently back away from those who claim they have “all the answers,” yet I always listen to them to determine their motivations for being so sure of themselves.

I do not get upset when people talk politics or religion; however, I always get upset when someone tries to control and disrespect my thoughts of God or government.

I never think ignoring a wrong is best policy although I'm certain the best people do quite a bit of wrong.

I long for “quiet wisdom,” yet I respect an impassioned plea from an honest individual.

I would rather “talk it out” instead of “tabling it to the next meeting.”

I see how rash action is a bad policy; however, I do not respect those who hesitate to take action.

I hate to be used, but I long to be used in a manner that benefits the common good.

I'm pretty sure I will die with a "questioning, vocal self.” I found early on in my teaching career that merely spewing facts from textbooks and spouting traditional, accepted wisdom produces classes of narrow-minded, easily influenced students. Students must be taught to question and think.

I believe if a teacher provides students with proven methods and strategies for thinking, and the teacher instructs the means to communicate broad interpretations of any subject, the students will incorporate those skills into all their studies, their understandings, and their daily lives.

These inquisitive students will learn to problem solve and think “on their feet.” They also will learn to respect the opposition and incorporate new, successful understandings into their lives. In short, they will see reasons to build “self” as a inseparable, powerful part of their very voices and actions.

I want people of different persuasions with different personalities close to me. I don't want to follow them, but I do want to learn from them because they represent my best hope for “self” improvement. And, I want these diverse people around me because they fill the gaps where my skills wane. So, they also represent the best hope for social improvement. 

When we ignore these special individuals, for whatever reason, we confirm our desire to be righteous, all-knowing and stagnant in our beliefs.

Like competitive baseball players, those who want to strengthen their team must first find their “self.” Then, despite personal desires for accolades and praise, they must develop their skills to add their “self” contributions to the lineup for the benefit of the team. And, while playing the game, they must continually listen to advice and adjust their “self” approach to overcome inevitable obstacles. They must dedicate their “self” to improving and maturing into better athletes while remaining within their individual “self” game. These players learn about the significance of the individual "game within the game."

Everyone wants to slug the ball out of the park, pitch the no-hitter, steal the most bases, and win the Gold glove for defensive prowess. But what about those who strive to help the team with their consistent performances within themselves? A sacrifice bunt, moving a runner along with an out, an infield hit, an accurate throw, a backup of an error, a diving catch, a good eye at the plate, an extended lead from a base, a pinch hit, a word of encouragement for another player, a hustling attitude... just intangibles and examples of insignificance? I think not. These things represent expressions of “self” that matter – contributions of consistency – to the success of the team. Thank goodness for celebrating individual differences. Long live difference!

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