Consider today and think about how much time you spent being other people. You do not have to be an actor to do this. How many times you envied someone’s situation, how many times you empathized with someone and how many times you admired someone. Are we really as selfish and self-centred as we are told we are? Isn’t it far more easier to lose yourself in others, in their personalities, in their lives? We socialize much more than ever before. Yes, for most of us, we might not have as many deep and long-lasting relationships with people as earlier generations have had but, we get to know of more people. The history of traffic and many-numbered public transport is fairly recent. It is common and more economical to travel now than it has ever been. And you only have to turn on a television or a computer to see and know people even if you are secluded. People are everywhere. People are stimuli for various instant and prolonged judgements. What is known as “culture” is absorbing people. To quote Oscar Wilde,
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
So, perhaps selfishness and self-centredness has more to do with actually trying to establish a sense of self. And being yourself is the next step. When you are “being yourself” you have drawn up a limited, identifiable idea of yourself that you are then trying to sell others. Instead of being a person of growth and change, you become a static idea, an idea of yourself rather than yourself. It is fine to able to do that when you are looking for a job or a mate. Whether we are trying to buy a packet of chips or getting to know a person for a potentially important relationship, its nice to have an overview of what it/he/she contains. But any attempt at drawing up a sense of self should come from objectivity. You are never old news to yourself, even though you live with yourself the longest. Therefore, it is hardest to have self-objectivity. As much as we hate to admit it, what we are is what other people think we are. We define ourselves with what others say about us. The most popular complaint and goal you will hear when a person comes out of a relationship is that they have lost who they are and are now on a search for their identity. And yet, they ignore the fact that who they were prior to the relationship was also under the influence of people on a primary or secondary basis. Whether I am influenced by my mother or John Lennon, they are still other people who have and had shaped their personalities from other people.
To really grow as human beings and make the most of our lives, I think it would be good to try to forget the need to establish a sense of self. Even for people who are in more “confessional” fields such as songwriters and observational comedians, it would be a good idea to remember that who you are in that song or joke is who you were only at that point of time. To have a richer inner life, it is important to be open to the random phenomenon of influences, to get into and get out of them organically as you go along. To be able to trust what is happening around us is to be able to be open to new, interesting experiences without having any self-definitions limiting us.