FORM AND IDENTITY
By Roland Watson
In one of the very first articles, the one titled Systems and Form, I discussed the concept of form in the abstract, and in the broadest sense possible. This is the idea that a form is literally any organization or structure, including any system, process or pattern.
Then, in the human nature series, I talked about the human form, our form of organization.
I focused on the factors that underlie our behavior. Among these factors, I introduced the idea of behavioral form: all of the social influences to which we are exposed, and which seek to shape how we think and act.
In this series of articles, I will review the process of social conditioning in depth. This will help you understand not only how you have been influenced, but when this process has been good for you and when it has not.
I'm going to begin though by extending the discussion of the human form a bit more. I want to consider it in the context of identity. I want to examine the complex interplay that exists between our efforts to create our identity, and the social forces that we are subject to along the way.
Who are you?
When I talk about identity, you should think of your identity, of who you are. So, who are you?
Well, in a practical sense, you are the person reading this article. But, by way of a broader definition, you are:
First, your appearance - your physical being and characteristics;
Second, your self-image - who you think you are, including your beliefs, dreams, aspirations and plans;
Third, your influences - if you have accepted them - who other people think you are, or want you to be;
And fourth, your actual behavior - what you have done.
This is your complete form, or identity. It is all of your characteristics, all of your beliefs, all of your influences, and everything you have thought, said and done, for every second of your life.
Now, I want to contrast this, your identity, your complete form, with the concept of being formed. What I mean by this is all of the ways in which you are shaped, conditioned, persuaded, socialized, manipulated, indoctrinated, programmed, controlled, and brainwashed - all of the techniques by which you are influenced to think and behave in a particular manner.
We can also think of this comparison as "form" versus "to be formed." The first is the idea of form as a noun and subject - you. The second is form as a verb and process - people affecting you.
Again, the underlying point of the entire University of Life initiative is that it is distasteful, and unacceptable, to be programmed in any way. What is important is that you be the master of your life, that you choose - you create - your own identity, who you are and what you do, through your own free will.
Of course, as I said in another article, there is the problem - or opportunity! - of chaos. What I mean by this is that your basic challenge is to design and construct your life in the context of continuous, unexpected events, and to which you must respond.
As part of this, you are going to have to strike a balance between your will - your desires - and the desires of the other people with whom you interact. And, as a blunt example of this, and which I already mentioned, you can pretty much do anything you want in life, but one thing that you can't do is make someone love you. This can only come from them.
The greatest challenge is dealing with what other people want. In other words, many times what you want is solely up to you. You can set a plan, work hard, and achieve it. Other times, though, you need people to cooperate. One of the most frustrating things in life is when they don't.
For me, personally, the most challenging thing of all has been dealing with people who are irrational, who refuse to listen to reason. My advice to you is this: If some people won't help you, find others who will. If someone doesn't love you, find someone who will. With irrational people, be patient, and if need be walk away.
A purpose for your life
So, and with these provisos, you can pretty much do anything you want in life. It is important to think about just how broad this is. You can go to, and even live in, almost any country. You can pursue any career. The variety of people you can meet, and have relationships with, is virtually unlimited.
The question, then, is what do you do? This is in fact the most important question in your life: what form do you take? How do you decide who you want to be? This is the big question, but, I'm sorry - I'm going to postpone if for now, and instead continue with the review of social conditioning.
I want to look at the actual processes by which we are formed. For one thing, this will give you a better idea of what you are up against. Then, in later series of articles, I will examine purpose and also change. How do you find a central purpose on which to base the design of your life, and what do you have to do to achieve it.
How form works
I want to open with a quote by the author, Witold Gombrowicz, who had an absolutely amazing understanding of human psychology. Gombrowicz was Polish, and he traveled to Argentina in the 1930s. He then got stuck there when Hitler invaded his country. He was effectively exiled, and because of this his literary brilliance was not properly recognized. He is one of the very best authors that I have ever read. Here's the quote:
"But the real situation is this: a human being does not externalize himself directly and immediately in conformity with his own nature; he invariably does so by way of some definite form; and that form, style, way of speaking and responding, do not derive solely from him, but are imposed on him from without - and the same man can express himself sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, bloodthirstily or angelically, maturely or immaturely, according to the form, the style presented to him by the outside world, the pressure put upon him by other men."
There's a lot in this quote, and it's not that easy to understand. I'm going to break down what Gombrowicz is talking about, piece by piece.
At its most basic level, form - and remember, we're talking about how we are influenced - form has to do with the differences between how we see ourselves, and how other people perceive us.
Even more, other people means everyone. Every single person, and institution, with whom you interact is a source of form.
This is because they all perceive you, or anyone else for that matter, on the basis of the evidence that is available, which for the most part is tangible. In other words, you are what their senses reveal you to be.
Based on these initial impressions, people tend to box you up, or stereotype you. This is form. They see you as something definite, and respond to you from their own personal agendas, the natures of which depend on them and their relationships to you.
Want, want, want
Furthermore, and either consciously or unconsciously, they want to influence you. They want to be right about you, to confirm you in your box. They want you to be who they want you to be.
For example, your parents want you to be a good student, or to enter a certain career, or to marry a particular person. From this, we can see that not all form is negative.
Your friends want you to behave in a certain way - probably many ways. Businesses want you to be a dutiful employee, or big shopper. Everyone in fact that looks at you sees you like this, in a way that suits their own interests. They all want something from you.
Other than your closest friends and loved ones, they all want something from you. It might even be something really small, like just agreeing with what they say. Many times even your closest friends and loved ones want something from you as well.
To turn it around, you, particularly as a child, are less clear about yourself. You may in no way be definite. You might be uncertain about many of the major areas of your life, including, most importantly, your identity. This uncertainty, about who you are and who you would like to be, is what is known as immaturity.
Because of this immaturity you will tend to be susceptible to their influence. In many cases, you will not be able to resist the pressure and persuasion. The sources of form will succeed in influencing you. And through this, you will change.
Form is power!
From this we can see that: Form is Power! You will become what they want you to be. As a result, you will lose part of your individuality, uniqueness, and free will.
As an aside, and returning to the abstract ideas in the introductory article, this is the complete linkage: Form, content, control, and power. Other people and social institutions impose behavioral form, through the content of different messages, to obtain control over you, though which they achieve power - again, over you, and in the case of social institutions, over many other people as well.
I'll repeat the most important points. Sources of form look at you and they see something definite. They see you from the perspective of who they want you to be. To yourself, though, you are not definite. You may be uncertain about many things, and therefore in different situations about what you should do.
But, the sources of form don't know about this, and even if they did they wouldn't care. They just want to be right, about you, and for you to do what they want. They want to confirm their preconceptions, and to get their own needs satisfied. Through this they obtain power, over you. With the worst forms - indoctrination and brainwashing - you become their slave.
This is unacceptable. You are going to have to fight off their influences, decide using your own free will who you want to be, and then, with courage and discipline, become that person!
In the next article, I will review how behavioral form is imposed in the moment.