Plan Your Selves
Abstract: Identity implies singularity and continuity. This article questions such concepts and argues that one should not regard a personality as fixed by one's background; personal development is something each one can work on, from the perspective of multiple 'selves'. The article suggests to use an alias for each aspired personality!
The old Identity Trap
From the day we are born, we are fitted into boxes. We are categorised and classified in all kinds of ways by the Government. It registers all kinds of personal details, such as one's name, gender, educational qualifications, address, date and place of birth, telephone number, career, medical history, criminal record, etc. Once you are put into a certain box, it is hard to get out of it.
In most ideologies of the past one was not allowed to organize one's life in the way one wanted to. Differences between people were said to be determined by on's origin, one's genes, one's class, one's age, not by one's own decisions. Society has rarely allowed anyone to take one's own destiny into one's own hands. People were not even allowed a personal identity. Society imposed upon anyone an identity that matched the social and family background into which one was born.
Identity is a most confusing concept. Who am I? is a question that has puzzled many philosophers. The education system teaches that one can question a lot of things, but that one fundamental truth is that if one thinks at all, one must exist. Cogito ergo sum is the cornerstone of many philosophies. But even though it is hard to deny that thinking does imply existing, Descartes' logic presumes the concept of identity.
From a physical point of view, a person is not a stable entity. People take in oxygen, food and water; it is sometimes hard to determine if something is or is not part of the body. Hair may be undeniably a part of oneself, but what if it is cut off? What about an amputated leg? Which of the separate parts is the person in question?
The problem with identity is that it implies singularity and continuity. People with multiple personalities are regarded as mentally ill, schizophrenic, etc. Society does not like dynamic identities either; it puts people in boxes; one is not supposed to change one's own personality. Attitudes that do not fit into the box will be expelled by society like 'evil spirits'.
Society forces people to play roles, as if they are actors. Role models work, as long as people know their lines. In the old days, the lines were clear and simple. Examples are: behave in the best interest of your family, or follow the orders of your boss. Today, more and more people are confused. Less people live within a family situation and even if they do, it does not make sense to devote all one's time and energy to the one or two other persons with whom one may share a house. Few people still work under strict supervision. Although people are nowadays expected to be creative self-starters, they do not know how to function in such a way, as they find it difficult to lay aside the submissive personality traditionally imposed on them by society.
It is hard to develop, let alone follow one's own ideas, as long as society pre-programs the roles of all people. This beats all sense of achievement out of most people; even in their 'free' time, i.e. after school or work, they do not know what to do, other than to act in a silly way. As long as people accept a submissive personality as their own identity, they will live other people's dreams, or more likely the Government's nightmare. Only if one rejects the harness of an imposed identity can one start working on one's own dreams.
How to plan your Selves
The concept 'optionality' implies that one should reject being locked up into a single identity, into 'oneself' as an unchangeable, permanent entity. To tackle the identity trap, it is helpful to think of multiple selves, or personalities, each of which can co-exist with other ones. Some selves can easily act simultaneously, there does not have to be a conflict or a struggle for dominance with other selves. When it is difficult to express aspired personalities, e.g. because work or family demands, one can still latently nourish them and thus develop them.
One should regard a personality as something dynamic, rather than fixed. A personality is not something one was born with. Each personality is something one should work on, to make it more consistent, to develop its potential and to grab the opportunities as they present themselves.
Such development may take many years and, because of that, it is useful to apply some planning. Everyone has, from time to time, some reflections on one's behaviour, some seemingly small thoughts considering how one would like to be. It is amazing how much influence such short thoughts can have on one's life. One may, at some stage, have said to oneself: I must be more assertive. Then, years later, one may wonder why one has become so aggressive, not realising that this aggression came from a desire to be assertive.
This is why it is so important to keep records of such reflections. It is good to look back from time to time at how one planned to develop one's personalities. This way, it is easier to understand certain personality changes if they become manifest. It makes it easier to check any progress or the absence of progress. Many people value planning when they move house, when they build their own house, or when they are involved with projects at work. A car receives regular check-ups and maintenance; people can spend a lot of time on their hair, their clothes, even on something as trivial as a watch; people are prepared to spend thousands of dollars on dental care, diets, etc, but few people ever sit down and take time to plan their selves.
Yet, such planning is very easy and does not have to take much time at all. The first thing to do is to write down one's aspirations. This may require some thinking. Many people write down something like: I want to get rich or I like to have an important position. However, this does not say much about their ulterior motives and ambitions. Getting rich or getting a new job are events rather than characteristics of one's personalities.
The next step is to envisage personalities that each have some of the desired characteristics. If there are characteristics that are not easily combined into a single personality, one should list them under separate personalities in which they are better expressed.
Use a number of Names!
People generally use the name given to them by their family. Using such a name does not say much about one's own ideas, except if one happens to be a dedicated family person and wants to be seen as such. Authors often use an alias, not so much to remain anonymous, but to better adopt a personality that is different from the one they have, say, as a parent or an employee. This way, a man who leads a rather boring life as an office clerk can be a hero as one of the characters in the westerns or detective stories he writes in his spare time.
Using different names for each aspired personality makes it easier to separate these personalities. If there turn out to be inconsistencies within a certain personality, the thing to do is to split it up into separate personalities each carrying one of the characteristics that do not go together very well. This may lead to a large number of personalities, but practical ramifications will ensure that over time only a small number (perhaps only one) will prevail. Don't look at it as if you will have multiple personalities. Don't presume "you" with multiple personalities attached to this "you", instead, let loose of the idea of "you" and think in terms of multiple presences.
Choose names to fit aspirations! Having written down such aspirations under a specific name will also make it easy to review the development for each presence from time to time.
Listen to other people!
This article encourages people to start thinking about what they like to be, to be active in planning and otherwise working on personal development, to avoid inconsistencies within any given personality and to learn from past experience. That does not mean that one should not listen to others and if necessary seek help from others. Interaction with other people can be an important catalyst for progress in building up presence. In fact, presences may have different origins, yet they may have such extensive overlap that they could be regarded as having merged. There are many ways personal development can take place and what is described in this article doesn't reject any of them, but it may differ in that it encourages people to build up multiple presences with one eye on their origin and a focus on optionality.