We do, and there are a couple of metaphors for thinking about our selves in that process. One is a “learning machine”. Especially now when 3-D machines that can make objects are being featured in our magazine fantasy life. But while it catches our eye by capturing our understanding that we are in transition from the “machine age” to the “information age”, an examination of two other roles is worth sitting with for a moment.
I’ve used the metaphor of role repertoire to help us think about our personality, and how we behave in all the different situations we face each day. I like metaphors because they function as verbal pictures; they help us see our lives.
We need to visualize the Seamstress and the Tailor.
From a group point of view children need to be socialized. If we are living in caves hunting and gathering we need to learn how to do that as part of the group. If we are going to kindergarten we need to learn how to stand in line and sit at our desk.
Despite our confused and confusing lust for individualism, the person who doesn’t learn those roles is headed for a difficult life. Those roles function to make learning, working, and living together possible. If most people did not learn them none of us would survive. And whether or not we have ever bothered to put that reality into words, it is true. To be ostracized by your group has always been one of the most threatening punishments an individual could face.
Acceptable social roles are designed, and “sewn” to fit the needs of the group, not the individual. Much of growing up is learning how to live into those sometimes ill fitting roles. We all know what that experience feels like.
The interesting and contradictory promise we are offered for learning to perform in the social script and costume, is that once we are successful we can afford to have our social clothes tailor made to give us more opportunity to live a bit outside of those same social roles. We have earned the right to be “our own person”.
The life of the individual and the group is a constant interactive adjustment, re-adjustment and development forced by the complexity of the needs of both. The hope that keeps us going is founded on the possibility that we can learn how to shape our lives in ways that serve our own selves and the members of our group. That is what we mean when we talk about “tailoring” our lives to fit “who we are”
(the next blogs will look more closely at our social and individual roles, and personality assessment)