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nikipedia's avatar

Do you have a core "self" that you can obscure or reveal?

Asked by nikipedia (27780points) May 25th, 2009

The answers to this question advise the asker to be herself. I am curious about what this means both philosophically and practically.

What is “yourself”? Is there some essence deep inside you that = you? Can you change this self? Like what if your “self” is a complete asshole—can you revamp this self and become someone better, or is it there for keeps? Are you a fraud of you try to alter your “self” for better or for worse?

Practically speaking, how do you “be yourself”? How could you ever be anyone else? If you lie and say you prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla, you are misrepresenting yourself as a chocolate ice cream aficionado, but you’re revealing the more important information that you are the kind of person to willfully misrepresent yourself…..right?

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16 Answers

Darwin's avatar

Isn’t this true of everyone? Don’t we all at times say we like something or we don’t just to please others? Don’t we all do things in private that we don’t reveal to others?

One of the reasons people can get along with other people is that we can hold back certain thoughts and feelings. We can choose which to reveal and which to hide, if only to keep the peace.

Supacase's avatar

I think I do this to some degree, though it is unintentional. I am quiet when I first meet people. There is an element of shyness and feeling uncomfortable, but I have found that I am mostly scoping the situation to get a feel of things before jumping in.

I have had so many people tell me that I am completely different once they got to know me than they thought I was at first. They thought I was a goody-goody or very reserved and almost snobby. After they find out what I’m really like, they are surprised that I talk all the time and have a few skeletons in my closet.

nikipedia's avatar

@Darwin: Sure, and I think there are very good reasons for willfully misrepresenting yourself. (Say you have an extremely sensitive hostess who only has chocolate ice cream to serve you—claiming to LOVE! chocolate ice cream would be gracious under those circumstances.) What I was trying to get at is that each action you make gives some information about you, whether it’s what you’re intending to communicate or not, so aren’t you always being yourself, whether you mean to be or not?

Darwin's avatar

Not if you are a professional con artist or a sociopath. Or an actor.

Zaku's avatar

It’s an illusion of language, in terms of absolute reality… but one model of humans is that they construct their identities in language, and then believe it’s the truth, forgetting they made it up over the course of their lives. Then humans also have different views of how real that identity is, how many they have, how important it is to be “true” to it, or to conceal it from others, or to be able to pretend, or to actually change it. It’s all made up, but it also has most humans very constrained inside of it.

Jayne's avatar

@nikipedia, your observation is win.

wildpotato's avatar

This is a question philosophers and psychoanalysts have been debating for hundreds of years, and I can point you to several thousand articles that each answer this question in a different way. But I will give you clips of my two favorites (which are more or less diametrically opposed):

Rorty – there is no essence of ourselves inhabiting us a la Ghost in the Shell. The self is nothing more than a concatenation of beliefs and desires – but this “nothing more” should not be seen as derogatory, just deflationary.

As to revealing or obscuring that ‘self’, he would probably say that it is always obscured, in that it is never valid to believe that you have been able to divine what another’s life is like, or why they really do the things that they do, from what you observe. We can choose what contingently characterizes us in our private lives, and be a good citizen in our public lives, and there is no theory that can make sense of this. For example, Rorty’s take on Heidegger’s Nazism is that one of the greatest minds of all time happened to be a pretty nasty character, and that’s all we can really say about that (others, like Medard Boss, disagree – see his intro to “The Zollikon Seminars”). See this short and wonderful piece by Rorty, Trotsky and the Wild Orchids if you guys ever click on a link I offer, let it be this one

Whitehead – every thing in the world is an “actual entity” (atoms, cells, crickets, humans, God) or “actual occasion”, which has a particular level of self-determining capacity based on its level of complexity (atoms are not that complex, so they have little power of self-determination; humans are very complex and have a great deal of ability to will their lives; God as omnipotent actually, for Whitehead, God is only mostly omnipotent because the power of self-determination of other creatures both affects God (because the world is really in a mutually creative process with God) and limits God’s ability to affect those creatures and omniscient is the most highly self-determining actual entity).

Don’t know what he’d say about obscuring or revealing so much though…but i suspect it might go back to his take on God again, and to intensity of experience. He says that God has a subjective aim, which is the ideal for growth for all actual entities. Humans are actual entities that can deviate from this ideal quite a bit, so it is easy for us not to reach our ideal for growth. It’s kind of cool that in the end, the ideal for growth is realized in intensity of experience. See “Process and Reality”.

sorry, this got really long accidentally

Darwin's avatar

@wildpotato It’s okay. Length happens.

cwilbur's avatar

@nikipedia: But if chocolate ice cream isn’t your favorite, telling that sensitive hostess that it is will result in you being served chocolate ice cream every time you’re there. You’re willfully misrepresenting yourself to suit others, which I don’t think is a good thing at all. Better to be honest.

wundayatta's avatar

When I say it, I mean that people should stop trying to please others, and they should do what is most meaningful to them, even if they are afraid others will disapprove. It’s generally because they can’t please others, so they might as well do what they’d rather be doing in the hypothetical perfect world.

Sometimes being yourself actually gets you what you hoped pleasing others would get you: respect. People understand your passion, because you do not deviate from it, despite the judgements of others.

When I tell you to be yourself, it means I think you’ve gone to far to the side of being what others want you to be. You can’t be happy that way, I don’t think. At least, not in the West. Perhaps in the East this might work.

shrubbery's avatar

I think it’s all about compromise. I think it’s extremely important to be yourself – that is who you’ve grown up to be and have shaped yourself into being (though of course not without influences), but it’s senseless to be so stubborn about being completely yourself when it gets you nowhere. You don’t stay exactly the same for the rest of your life, your brain is constantly changing, you go through experiences that change your perspective, so sometimes instead of being stupidly stubborn it might be ok to let these changes happen. I’m not talking about giving up your values and beliefs, but maybe altering them as each new thing comes along.

There’s nothing I hate more than fake people – tryhards, whatever you want to call them, who only try to please others or be what other people want to be, that’s going to far to the extreme. But it’s ok to try new things, for example if you were a worry wart and tried to be a bit more carefree for a change. Just don’t go so far as to feel like you are completely losing yourself. I don’t know if this makes sense, I’m sorry. At 17, these are all crucial questions for me right now, and I’ve been through a stage where I have been unsure as to who I am or what that even meant. I think now that I was listening too much to what other people were telling me to be like and I was so afraid of getting hurt like I had the last time I was truly myself that I let it get too far, and instead of altering myself in subtle ways to deal with this hurt, I lost sight of who I really was. So I’m compromising, I’m slowly slipping back into my skin, though not without small modifications to my personality.

I haven’t quite figured out why but I have qualms with statements like “It’s not like you to ______”. Perhaps because that implies that a person is not allowed to develop and change… Anyway, what I’m trying to say I think boils down to this. Personalities are not set it stone, but we shouldn’t completely lose sight of the values we think are important which help shape our selves.

Lonestarwildman's avatar

Be yourself?We are all products of those who raised and educated us.Products of ideologies,religions,and expectations of others.The only way you can be yourself if you are born in a vacuum with no outside influence.

Lonestarwildman's avatar

@Lonestarwildman Or be the first being in another world

jackfright's avatar


I would consider my “core” self my default state of mind and attitude.
it’s my most relaxed and comfortable state of mind but according to close friends, exgirlfriends and coworkers, dry and somewhat serious.

cant say i try to please others (that would require too much effort, and my gag reflex wouldn’t have it) but i do try to smile more, and act interested when i’m at social events, etc. the hardest habit for me to break is walking away when i get bored of a conversation- while someone is still talking. girls seem to really hate this, so i dont recommend anyone do it too often

i also think it’s not quite a black and white issue, whether youre “yourself” or not. i see it as more of a greyscale range. how honest can you afford to be in a given situation. i’ve never seen any of my colleagues walk in to the office and insult the boss by expressing an honest opinion without expecting dire repercussion, for example.

i’ve always thought it interesting that the people you can be most “yourself” with are the people who matter the least by nature. some are probably inclined to cite their parents or siblings here, but really, that’s probably a lie. would you tell your sister she’s a fat loser?

Just_Justine's avatar

For short bursts of time we can modify our behaviour. Our core never changes and will emerge eventually.

kess's avatar

One cannot know himself unless that one yearns after Truth.

When one finally finds truth. he would then know himself as Truth itself.

The easiest place to begin is to avoid all hypocrisy in your thoughts, speech and actions.

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