For a while now, I have been obsessed with reflecting on human conceptualizations of self(hood) through the lens of intersubjectivity. I tend to deal less with philosophical approaches to subjectivity and more on the ways in which we know our(self) in relation to others.
More often than not I find three approaches useful:
(a) I am increasingly convinced that if we are to truly discover who we are, both individually and collectively, we must turn more toward evolutionary and social biology than religious scriptures and myths. In this regard, David Eagleman‘s work on neuroscience supplies interesting approaches to thinking about the human brain’s development and evolution in relation to moral agency.
(b) Also I find reading more on the myriad ways that fear influences the American collective psyche beneficial. Alarm, panic, fear, terror, distress, anxiety and the like are common rhetoric driving politics, religion, mobility, lack of mobility, and so on. More work should be done analyzing America’s infatuation with fear and the ways in which this fear shapes who we are.
(c) And personally, reflecting on one’s social networks as a means of knowing one’s self seems profitable in this entire conversation of intersubjectivity. I strongly believe in the power of community and collective imagination in creating healthy and productive lives. Admitting that community influences can inform one’s self both in the positive and negative, I and my conceptualization of my(self) are an artifact of the relational bonds throughout my existence.
I ground my(self) through my close personal networks.
It helps me to imagine all of my contacts as a spider web with myself in the hub. Those closest to me, in the strengthening zone, are those with the most impact upon my life. To a degree, as I construct my web, these are those persons whom I wish to provide the most influence on me. It is incumbent upon each of us to select wisely who these persons are while also embracing the responsibility to cultivate and foster these relationships. And as the web extends outward on the y-structure, each spiral becomes less influential.
This web metaphor permits me to visually frame my connections and make decisions on the present and future directions of my(self). To be sure there are those who enter the web uninvited or those whose presence disrupts the web construction, but possibly this is where maturation hopefully allows one to wisely make decisions.
In thinking about this web metaphor, recent events have reinforced how important those within the first few spirals truly are. My mom was diagnosed with cancer this summer. She went through surgical procedures and the subsequent chemo treatments. Her physical body and the chemo were at odds with one another causing an abandonment of the chemo as an option for continued treatment. Her health and prognosis are, thankfully, good for the future.
Being separated geographically from my parents during this tumultuous stage of my mom’s life is difficult. My mom is fortunate, however, to be surrounded by a supportive web of social connections. So many wonderful people have passed along an encouraging word or visit making this current situation much more bearable.
My wife, kids, and I were privilaged to be able to visit my family for a few days this summer. These are great memories filled with hugs, tears, and laughter. Those moments are valuable in that they are shared, but also because they construct selves – multi-layered, multi-generational selves.
In addition, I reconnected with several of my friends from the Bowling Green area (the Notorious BG). The laughter and conversations picked right up from where we left them. This group of people allows me (and my family) to be fully who we are with no need for facades or imaginary selves. This is a group where the lone self starts to flourish while also fading into the collective – where the “we” turns into a shared “I.”
These wonderfully complex, multi-dimensional people truly inform me, in myriad ways and degrees. I exist appreciatively in connections with my friends and family. My hopes and intentions are that I can faithfully cultivate these relationships, contribute to each of the others healthy construction of their(selves), and express my sincere gratitude for their presence along the way.