Monday, January 20, 2014

Judgment, Inhibition and the Emerging Self

In 1994 Steve Jobs was interviewed on PBS for its One Last Thing documentary.  Speaking about insights which resulted in his life's work, he said:

"When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is - everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.  And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use."

These are profound words, and not just for building things.  They describe key aspects for identity development and processes which limit it.  In my work and personal life I am too often struck by how much judgment we humans seem to deliver...to ourselves, to others, to ideas, to thought, to dreams.  I and those with whom I work encounter it daily, and many times a day.  In my middle age I have come to ignore most of it, but this defense was hard won and took too long for me to develop.

So I work to help mostly younger adults to spot judgment which inhibits the genuine trajectory of the self.  There is no growth without risk-taking, without "bashing into the walls" on occasion.  We must all learn to manage unnecessary and harmful inhibition in order to become who we have always been.

There is of course a place in life for social feedback, for learning from others what we are and are not doing well or effectively.  But we ought to critically examine all feedback and determine for ourselves what is "true" and healthy for us and the world around us.  This takes time and practice, and the earlier one starts the better.  It is not easy figuring out where the world's great institutions of family, ethics or faith, school and government have gone astray.  Certainly each has something to offer, to help us reduce chaos and create meaning.  Institutions are made of people so there will not be perfection in these pursuits.  It is up to us to sort that out.

Sooner or later, everything which comes to us in life will be categorized as "belonging to me" or "not belonging to me".  We simply cannot accept all reflections of us as though we are carrying a mirror around with us at all times.  Attempting this will overwhelm the self and lead to poor mental health outcomes.  We have to be able to turn the mirror around and perceive that judgment is often more about the other or a system which is in need of our gifts and talents.  We don't always have to "live inside the world", but we do have the responsibility of changing that world for ourselves, and possibly for others, if we are to be authentic selves.