Self-image's faultlines

I’ve got a goodly case of “short-timer’s”. Today is the last day I am working until next Monday, which means that most of my thoughts are preoccupied with the concept of “getting the hell out of here.”

Not that my work is too horrible; while occasionally stressful it’s largely cake. And there’s frequently large amounts of time to think. I had the interesting experience yesterday of having two insights rather forcibly shoved into my consciousness, and that’s definitely forced me to think quite a bit.

First, I discovered that – DESPITE MY BEST INTENTIONS – I still have a visceral reaction to people who cannot communicate effectively. In this case, it was a TED talk which featured someone with cerebral palsy. Intellectually, I *know* that people with this and other types of palsies are just as intellectually aware as anyone else. But even though it was a recorded talk, I found myself getting impatient and having a viscerally unpleasant reaction to the (in retrospect) genuinely nice man. Johnson (Privelege, Power, and Prejudice) suggests that learned discrimination against handicapped individuals happens through socialization. I’m not sure if they were looking at physical handicaps, mental handicaps, or both.

Regardless, I’ve got this self-realization sitting like a steaming turd in my lap, and I’m not quite sure where to go with it.

Then, later in the evening, as my wife and I were talking about our respective mental issues, it suddenly occurred to me (because she pointed it out) that my own intrinsic mental issues (my term) were contributing to (or at least slowing the resolution of) her intrinsic mental issues. Another disconcerting realization. Probably more disconcerting than the first, really.

The first one is ultimately my problem, and can at least be “band-aided” by vigilance. Who would ever know about my internal problems as long as I can self-correct for it? But to be entangled with someone else, for my own problems to be causing another person – any other person – unnecessary difficulty… well, that’s a huge pile of steaming turds in my metaphorical lap.

There’s a social force at work here. (I’m sure Mead fits in here somewhere, too…) My self-image is being seriously challenged by both of these developments. In the former, my sense of non-judgementalness is called sharply into question, and in the latter my independence as a social actor is highly suspect. This happens at any time where our self-image is challenged… but it doesn’t have to be resolved the way I want it to be.

I want to resolve my self-image, to make it coherent and consistent with the social reality – as much as possible. But is this really the choice that many – or most – people make? The other option would be to embrace deviance, to alter my self-image to fit the labels applied to me. I’m not really sure what makes people break on one side of that division or the other. Neither is particularly “easy” – changing your self-image is nearly as traumatic as finding out your own hypocrisy, but making efforts to change are just as hard.

How do we make it easier for others – and ourselves – to eschew hypocrisy and to live up to the ideals we espouse?

If you find the answer, let me know…

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