Thursday, June 20, 2013

I Am A Walking Contradiction: Deconstructing The Concept of Personality

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

In his 2013 Wesleyan commencement address, Joss Whedon talked about the inherent contradictions of being human--"the contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have." The notion of our "self" or "personality" as something established and fairly long-lasting is being replaced by a new, much more apt paradigm--as something malleable and negotiated, and more importantly, through a process that requires work as opposed to something one is born with. "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key – not only to consciousness, but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in."


Embracing our inner contradictions is important. This is quite a shift from the prevailing popular mild disdain for "flip floppers" (John Kerry should feel vindicated). "This contradiction, and this tension … it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better."
In his book The Ego Trick, Julian Baginni argues that the self is really a "bundle" of thoughts and while it still very much exists, it is merely a collection of things and not an immutable monolith: "We are these very remarkably ordered collections of things. It is because we’re so ordered that we are able to think of ourselves as being singular persons. But there is no singular person there, that means we’re forever changing.” Yet, while we are our thoughts, memories, and parts, Baginni does believe we are more than a sum of our parts. The fact that we are dynamic, changing systems means that we are constantly in the process of negotiating our identity, questioning our assumptions, and reveling in our contradictions instead of castigating yourself for your inconstancy.
Whedon concludes his speech by addressing the penultimate graduation speech trope, changing the world: "So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world."
In other words, don't feel quite so bad about being a walking contradiction and be more accepting of your flip-flopping ways, taking comfort in the fact that being able to "argue yourself down" makes a little more aware and able to pull aside the stage curtain, if you will. So what then are the implications of this inherent mercurialism for brand loyalty? What impact does your oft-renegotiated "personality" have on your lifestyle choices then? Food for thought.

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