The germination, development and maturity of a realistic and stable self-image is an essential factor in our rational participation in society. Otherwise, the perceived absence of a communal role, or part, in life’s theatrical performance is a ticket to an insular life of despair and irrelevance. In our lifelong inner conversation with ourselves, we have a need to construe and perceive an acceptable and relatively consistent theme, or personal rationale, for our actions.
Because of the felt importance of such concept, we may have, admittedly, expended an inordinate amount of time (and words) on the subject of the acquisition of perceived personal identity, or” self-image”, perhaps too often stressing the competing factors of private or public perception.
In the private mode of self -attribution of personal identity, we have cited the wisdom of the great philosopher, Socrates who famously said, “Know thyself” and “The unexamined life is not worth living,” challenges to the responsibility of man, personally and privately, to conduct a personal audit, and contrasted it with the words of the famous poet, Robert Burns, whose professed aspiration for man is to be able to “ see ourselves as others see us,” the latter being a public, interactive dynamic. Yet we are troubled with both; the private dynamic, understandably being colored with fantasy, aspiration and rationalization, while the public mode being subject to the divergent perceptions of others and the possibility of our subjective choice as to the preferred observation.
Yet we require some rational, generally acceptable guide to the acquisition of our personal, nuanced persona. Our legal identity is indicated by our family and given name, our address, our assigned or selected role. To evaluate our inner self, we need a personal reference point, a home base, from which we can make consistent choices and understandable determinations. We cannot hazard the varied perceptions of the public or our dreamy aspirations about ourselves to make the determination.
Looking at a mirror to ascertain our essential being is completely useless. Useful in shaving, or checking cosmetics, it has no useful relevance in human evaluation. Long disproven are the Lombroso theory of criminal types and the Victorian literary portrayals of character from facial image, such as portrayed in the classic novel, “The Picture of Dorian Grey.” A mirror’s function is to inform us of our superficial appearance only; otherwise it is opaque.
Briefly put, our accurate self-image is not acquired by consulting our fantasies about ourselves nor in the reliance upon the interactive and varied perceptions of others. It is accrued from an accurate reference to the sum total of our actions, choices and beliefs manifested during the course of our lifetime. This is the laboratory in which our persona is created and the reference point for our valid determination. To what extent have we demonstrated generosity, empathy, understanding, tolerance for others and disparate belief systems, wise choices, responsibility, personal dignity, awareness of self and others, aspirations for growth and self-enrichment; these factors and others are the admissible and probative evidence of character. Right actions are important, indicative deposits in our private personal account; less than the same are irretrievable withdrawals. As much as we have criticized aphoristic “truisms” one, nevertheless, has present relevance and validity, “Actions speak louder than words.”