The Color We Wear
I look out at the people around me. I see them. They see me. We all see each other. We think that we know ourselves, and we believe that we see others, those separate from ourselves.
We have been taught since we were very young that we are individual, or separates selves. We are taught that we are distinct and unique individuals. However, both the way in which we view each other, along with how we fit into reality, is not how most understand it.
Language and capitalism
There are two reasons why we see people the way we do.
The first is the language that we use affects our thought process. We use labels for people and objects in our reality. By labeling, we judge and box things into conceptual bins. This creates perceptual boundaries where concepts begin and end.
There is also the corporate marketing perspective. People and organizations desiring to sell a product focus on fostering the mindset of the individual. The further they split the self and other, the more likely they can sell a trinket that makes the self a “happy and unique individual.”
Terms: Self and Other
We use self and other to describe ourselves and someone who appears distinctly different from us. The term self-implies us. It is something that we think is inside of us. We all know and experience it. Most people can identify some aspect of it, or better yet, what it is not. However, what is the self?
To examine this, we must take a step back. The question that starts the thought process is “who are you?” How would you describe you, if you could not be characterized by separate adjectives? Could we agree that we are all a culmination of experiences that we have had before this moment in time? Are you not only dependent on your history but also your current surroundings?
We know that if we have stuck our finger into a light socket in the past, that we will most likely never do it again. Many call this learning. Some people have to do this several times, but none-the-less eventually learn their lesson.
We can also realize that if we were to stick our finger in a light socket alone, we might act quite a bit differently than in the presence of our friends. The same is true for social situations in general. Our behaviors even differ between various groups of friends.
So based on past events, we will act specific ways in the future. The same can be said for making decisions. If in the past, we get rewarded for working. It is likely that in the future, we will try to work more to continue to get paid. Imagine that during every experience we are gaining information and storing it in our brains to use it in a future situation. When we need to make a choice, the mind searches this information, along with the present case to predict the best way in which to act. So our decisions are at least partially decided by what is already inside of our head due to experience.
To sum this up, we are experiential creatures. The interactions that we have with other humans sculpt, mold and form us into who we are in this present moment. We can think about our life as a large lump of clay. Everyone and every experience that we encounter does one of several things. Either the interaction or situation adds, modifies, or removes material.
We can be thought of as being a puzzle piece. The puzzle piece starts as a blank, square piece of cardboard. Then as we have interactions, the material is removed and sculpted into the part that we are. The specific shape that we form into makes us fit the unique position that we can in life. Because our lives are so complicated, each of us fit into some spot, role, or function that no one else quite can.
If we can agree that we are in fact the culmination of experiences that we have had before this moment in time, this has implications for the self. We started out with a notion of the self that is distinctly separate from other. If we are in fact the result of experience and others influence, then is there an extrinsic self? If our ego is merely small bits of other people and experiences, then how is it that the self is separate?
To begin to understand the misguided separation of self and other we turn to an additional term “another”. This thought adds the notion of the “other” not only being separate from ourselves but being something. “An” implies that the other is an apportioned being, something finite, meaning it has boundaries.
The sense of being separate comes from the idea that “we” end at the edge of our skin. We have been taught that we are in charge of and more realistically are our bodies. These bodies we are told, are our vehicles to move about in this life. We are the ones that have control over them, and the skin is the surface that separates us from the world.
Illusion of separateness
This notion of separateness is not entirely accurate. The skin is a surface, like many others. It allows air in and perspiration out from a simplistic point of view. So things flow back and forth. There is also the flow of food, water, and oxygen into the body and waste products out. If we genuinely ended at our skin, then we would not take in or excrete anything. If we were isolated beings or selves, then we would not need anything from the “outside world.”
If we start to take this perspective, we realize that we are in fact dependent on the world and the people around us. There are many things that we do not make or possess to be able to survive. We need others and material from the world on many levels. We need people who know how to grow food and make clothes. These are the building blocks of life. We need people for less materialistic reasons as well.
We are inherently social beings. We need others for social interaction. This type of communication is necessary for a healthy psyche. Every time that we interact socially with someone else, we gain feedback from these people on what is socially acceptable behavior by the group. If we do not receive such feedback, then it is easy for our social perceptions to go off the rails like a crazy train.
The point here is that we depend on others for many things. We are also a culmination of every interaction and experience that we have had before this time. That means the way in which we think, act and interact are formed by prior experiences. These experiences become embedded deep within our brains. This engrained character is why when we act out in a way that we feel wrong about, we often do not understand why we acted in such a way. This unconscious action comes from deeply embedded patterns that we formed days, weeks or years prior. Then when a particular situation reminds us or stirs our unconscious in such a way, it becomes like, for lack of a better term, a trigger.
It is for this reason that an essential step to understanding ourselves, is understanding the other. It is realizing that we are all humans in this experience together. We, in fact, are all much more similar than we are different. This notion is quickly forgotten in the high tech, consumer-driven world within which we live. We are all similar in the sense that we are an agglomeration of experiences along with the fact that we have the aim to be happy, fulfilled and loved.
What we should note is that based on our prior experiences, we will all act in some specific way. That is why it has been said by Johann Hari, that things like depression are not abnormalities. Instead, they are typical psychological responses to abnormal social and psychological situations. Sometimes these situations are difficult to avoid or improve. However, much of the time we have at least somewhat of a decision on our outlook of any given situation.
We can choose who to surround ourselves with and how to interpret certain scenarios. We can look at them as happening to us, or for us. The critical thing to remember is to be careful with what and who you surround yourself.
You are like a chameleon; you take on the color of your surroundings. The color that you become then drives how you treat others. How you act toward others becomes how they react to you. How others treat you becomes the chameleon color that you wear. This social feedback loop is one of many cycles in life.