196 Trading Images of The Self
We are obsessed with our self-image. Even for most of us who play a very minor role in the grand stage show we call life, there is a desire to be seen in a particular light. Depending on the situation, we may be a leader or follower, the boss or the employee, the parent or the child, the inflictor or the afflicted, the sadist or the masochist. My go-to humanist socialist, Erich Fromm, wrote on this phenomenon extensively1. So too did his predecessor, Sigmund Freud. Both acknowledge the thinness and destructiveness of the surface level self formed through a relationship with its environment.
When we stare into the mirror, we see a reflection. It is a representation of us that serves to reinforce the ideas and concepts we hold of ourselves. We dress up to fulfil that image, and when what we see staring back meets the ideal, we are ready to go out into the world. But weaknesses exist–unacknowledged in large part–and are concealed by a nice haircut, skinny jeans, and new shoes. The image we have borrowed from the world of other people holds a central role in all our affairs and exchanges and protects us from those weaknesses.
Who are we really? We don’t know, but the image will do just fine for now. Kicking the true self further down the road, if indeed it exists, we delay self-realisation and the opportunity to connect with a genuine and authentic version of ourselves. In this sense, the world in all its wonder and depravity is a reflection of all that we perceive ourselves to be. We are a microcosm of the macrocosm.
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