So I’m sitting at work when a coworker reminds us all that the problem with most people is that they’re not always themselves; that they change who they are depending on their whereabouts and social setting. It just so happens that I agree with my coworker, inasmuch as a statement like this can be agreed upon. That is to say that – technically – I do not agree with the statement as it appears on your computer screen, but that I agree with it considering its particular whereabouts and setting.
And this is precisely my point: that the statement simply as is useless, and it is useless because people are incapable of “being themselves” regardless of their whereabouts and social setting. Sure, we all know what she was trying to say: duplicity and fractured living is a sad and sick thing to behold in people. In this case, a woman from my coworker’s church, who happens to lead a charitable ministry, has some less then savory dealings with the retail store where I am currently employed. Yes, the situation is all too sad and typical.
Why does it behoove us to be critical of my coworkers statement? I suggest that the sloppiness of the statement leads to a lack of understanding of the problem, and more importantly, an inability to grasp the solution.
The human being is not a closed social unit. Just like we are a moderately open environmental unit — we breathe in and out, we allow substances like food and water inside of us — we are a moderately open social unit. To think of “being who you are” regardless of social setting is as faulty and fictional as thinking of us living as we are on Mars. It just ain’t gonna happen. We must accept this fact and move on; which, in this case, is moving back.
If setting is a factor, how are we to be “ourselves” regardless of setting? If I am going to change my ways depending on where I am, what I’m doing, and who is around, how do I avoid being an evil duplicitous person? Where do we find that solidarity of character that is noble, honored and rare?
Adding to the milieu is the issue of disposition, or what Aristotle might call habituation. I am a person pointed in direction. Where I am going, and whence, is an essential part of “being who I am”. One thinks of how the early Christian Creeds explain the person of Christ in terms of these questions, or the importance of the surname in almost every culture other than ours. Consider “attitude” in the aeronautical sense, which is the disposition of the aircraft to the horizon, landscape, and the direction of travel. The term also used to have a sense of physical carriage and posture which, of course, bespeaks of the persons inner composure and mindset. Sadly, these days the term simply refers to taking the temperature of one’s feelings at a given moment. (“Are you feeling good or bad about it?” “Are you fur it, or agin it?”) Rather than focusing on some esoteric and ever-vanishing core of “yourself” that we are supposed to firmly hold in place, we can consider our disposition and concentrate on holding the course.
The term “habituation” reminds us that character is not as much found as it is made. There are watershed moments in our lives to be sure, but these are put in place by plain ol’ boring repetition. Solidarity of disposition is no small thing, and part of reaching it is attending to the environment. It cannot be gained by “reaching within yourself”, “following your heart”, or continuing to see yourself as opposed to the “world”.
Likewise another companion to solidarity is the environment itself. The more that one can get away with anything, the more likely one is to feel the need to recreate and reestablish his or her identity on a daily basis. And as we have all seen before, when someone is allowed to get away with anything, they often do. The decay of community (which in this case means. “a consistent environment– social and geographic”) has naturally led to an increase in hypocrisy. Considering this, it is not surprising for us to see the women from our church’s acting out of sync with their typical Sunday behavior.
If we wish to move towards solidarity of behavior and disposition, we must embrace and foster our community. To be sure this is a bit ironic– that we may choose our environment– but this bit of irony does not preclude us from moving towards solidarity. Committing to your community, fostering your environment, attending to your disposition, practicing the proper habits, are key ingredients to personal solidarity. If you want to be who you are, you must be who you are becoming.