Sunday, April 21, 2013

Through the Looking Glass

Brighton, England

I do not wish to be an overbearing parent because I believe that I should  let my children have the liberty to make decisions on their own. I want to encourage them to have trust in their own judgments and abilities and  I hope that they do not succumb to peer pressures and depend on the online response from their friends on Facebook. They must know that one’s self worth is not dependent on the number of followers or friends he or she has whether in cyberspace or the physical world. I want to impress upon them : “ The World is Your Oyster” and when in doubt, listen to your inner voice.

While self-esteem may not be exponential of self  confidence, perhaps the least each parent must do is to do all they can to ensure that their children’s self esteem and self belief are intact. I try to be mindful about what I say to my children and at the same time I must not be trying too hard to make them feel better when things do not go well. One tough aspect of growing up is to be always self assured to make up your own mind. Maturity is about coping with the harsh realities that we do not often make the best decisions or get what we want and through trial and error, we have to become adaptable and flexible. Ideally we should all be doing what we like to do and not doing what we are told or what we think we should do. However free will comes with possessing strong sense of individualism and non-conforming takes strong conviction and insurmountable boldness and courage to see it through.

A parent sometimes misses the years when the child was still a baby. When the child was a baby, his or her parents would moon over him or her and coo-coo to every single sound and smile the child exuded. Sometimes, parenthood gives less, not more, pleasure through the years as the child begins to have a mind of his or her own and become an independent person in his or her own right. My late father once expressed his disappointment in me as he lamented, “ You have changed.”

I never asked what he had meant. Can an individual change over the years? I was probably not the person he thought he had come to know or what he wanted me to become. Apart from the inevitable changes that occur in our physical appearance due to aging, our outlook and attitude change due to what we have experienced and we may even reinvent ourselves from time to time to cope with changing circumstances and surroundings. However I do not think we can alter our make up.  Over the years, wherever we are , however the others perceive of us , I believe our cores or our essential self remain the same. Every person has qualities that may seem irreconcilable in the eyes of those around you but we must realize that the outsiders cannot be privy to your real emotions and thoughts yet we care how others perceive of us. Perhaps who we are really comes down to those around us.

In his book ‘The Self Illusion’, Professor Bruce Hood wrote that whether we like it or not, we are all members of  groups of people and because no man or woman is an island, we all belong to the one very big club: the human species. Throughout our lifetime we either hang around with or fall into different groups by default or otherwise. We are all associated with the groups we have been assigned to by birth and through assimilation. Some people do not want to belong to the respective groups they have been assigned to based on their religious or cultural backgrounds because they have difficulties discarding all the prejudices and biases that are attached to those particular groups. Few of us can live as hermits, hence most of us do things that are acceptable to the society they have been assigned to by birth or the culture they have been brought up in. Sometimes we no longer recognize who we are as we are much caught up in the value system of the groups or the community we live in. What we think matter to us are actually what we are told that matter.

 We think we have made our personal choices but  choices are never our own because we are constantly surrounded by conscious and unconscious processes. For example,  it should not be our possessions that define us but the advertisement industry tells us we are what we own and therefore seemingly define who we are. Luxury brands sell simply because they project prestige and material success and we live in the world where wealth matters and hence our vanity is constantly exploited by the advertisers.

Professor Hood wrote : ‘Our self exists in the reflection that the world holds up to us. The American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley coined the term “the looking glass self” to express the way that the self is shaped by the reflected opinions of others around us.” Apparently everyone holds a looking glass up to us every time we interact with each of them, that probably explains why I find that some people make me feel elated while some people make me feel extremely uncomfortable or drained when I am around them. Cooley summed up the notion of self illusion in this tongue- twister of logic, “ I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.”’

It is our human nature to pigeonhole others and in turn be labeled ourselves, if only we could stop appraising the others and at the same time care less about how we could fit other people’s perceptions, we would perhaps be comfortable in our own skin and watch our inner thoughts good or bad,  for each of us is unique in our own imperfect and flawed ways and each of us is entitled to his or her own views to live by. Nothing is what it seems.

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