In several of my previous posts I have advocated the notion that we should focus on others less and on ourselves more (most notably in this post here: an ethics of excellence). My premise or idea or whatever is that in focusing on the other we run from autonomy – we should do things for ourselves, not in reaction to others. A thought came to me today while listening to a podcast on Hegel that seemed important to explore in relation to this previous concept.
Joining a long and respectable tradition, it seems inescapable to me that any conception of self is inherently social. Our ‘self’ can only exist in opposition to ‘another’. This seems to be in opposition to the notion that I have forwarded that we should turn inward in our pursuit of excellence. This is not my notion alone, by any means. I have read many articles and seen many videos set to inspiring music that explain that we can make ourselves very unhappy if we focus on competing with and comparing ourselves to others. But what can it possibly mean for us to do otherwise? The ‘other’ is necessary for any meaningful notion of striving – it is only with community that we can gain any sense of success, failure, the good life, the bad, etc.
What does it mean, then, to turn inwards in pursuit of excellence? Is it a sensible notion? The core idea that I and others seem to be getting at is that it is negative to use others as measuring sticks for ourselves (the trending idea I’ve been reading about lately is how we should not compare our lives to the idealized ‘facebook lives’ of our friends and associates). There seems to be a certain falseness to the movement, to me. The very notions which we are pursuing (self esteem, autonomy, self-actualization) can only exist in a social context. We can only come up with them, and meaningfully think about success, by making those around us our measuring sticks.
That all being said, I’m mostly playing devils advocate. I think that the problem is simply the matter isn’t as simple as it initially appears. Fairly much any activity oriented on our perception of self is social, there just are positive and negative ways to conduct ourselves within the social. The facebook idealization is really a reality check – people are not as far ahead of us as they may present themselves.
Thank you for reading,
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