Separation of Self

Separation of Self

This post has origins that predate this blog. It started with a conversation with a work colleague last year. A conversation that could only happen, I think, because we were removed from the context of our normal work environment.

It was on the drive to a weekend conference we were attending outside the city. One of the topics of conversation we wound our way around to was the company’s recent efforts at diversity and inclusion. More specifically, the concept of making it safe to bring your ‘whole self’ to work.

A worthy goal, we thought, but one destined to failure.

Years upon years of working in a corporate environment trains us how to act at work. How to present ourselves. How to talk. There is even an expected language of the environment that extends beyond simply the technical jargon specific to any given area.

These things all come together to create a persona. This persona is still ‘you’, but it’s ‘work you’. Home you is likely someone quite different. Then there’s out on the town with friends you. Who’s that guy?

We tried to determine what ‘whole self’ even meant, then. When different aspects of who you are, are so dependent on the people you’re interacting with at the time, is there ever anytime, anywhere, when you’re being your ‘whole self’? We didn’t think so.

I don’t recall if the parallel was drawn in this particular conversation or not — but separation of self is certainly true for us here on the Internet as well.

At best we show a subset of who we are, something I reflected on in a comment a little while ago now, when UltrViolet1 said the following:

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m very much adopting a “writing persona” when I write. I’m assuming a role. I’m setting aside “me” and stepping into the role of “the writer.” So the idea that anyone can get to know “me” through “my writing” strikes me somewhat discordantly.

UltrViolet (2019) — Staying Private in Public (Endgame Viable)

In my comment-reply to this at the time, I noted: “There are times I might endeavour to bring more of the ‘real me’ to the fore than usual, but it is a conscious effort and an exception to the norm.”

But in the context of UltrViolet’s post — this could be somewhat unclear. Unlike Ultr, or a streamer who puts on a persona, I don’t mean to say there is a role I consciously step into and adopt when I seat myself behind the keyboard to write one of these.

But like the work persona, or the home persona, or the out with friends persona — the Internet persona is contextual. And possesses significant differences from the others. For one, I tend to be more optimistic online. Not to say I’m all doom and gloom generally — but I’m more open to the idea of trusting and the general goodness of people online. I know. On the internet. Go figure.

In part I blame it being part of the job at work to identify how any given proposition might be gamed or abused.

I think online I’m also typically more open to discussing, well, things like this. Which now that I’m really thinking about it, I wonder if ‘Online me’ is at at least as true a reflection of self as the others?

Anywho. Boy have I wandered around this one. What I thought was the main topic of the post didn’t even end up being discussed!2 Maybe a follow-up post at some point would be in order. :)

Although next up I think simply has to be some gaming stuff of some sort. The itch to go back to tackling The Horrible Hundred in FFXIV might be rising again. Also?

They got me. They got my money early with the blasted name reservation. Well played Blizzard, well played.

Footnotes

  1. In turn triggered by a post by Roger Edwards
  2. I thought this would end up focusing more on separation of identity. I knew this other stuff would feature — just not that it would overtake the entire post.

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8 thoughts on “Separation of Self”

  1. The whole separation of self probably runs even deeper than we think. As Plato once said, everything in this world is just a shadow cast from the real, ideal world. So, in this world, can there even BE a “real” self? You said it yourself, the “self” is highly contextual, even more so than you said. Yes, you act different at home and with your friends, even with different groups of friends, you are a different “self”. But every single context given creates a new “self”. The question is: Which one is the real one? You could argue it is the one at home, or the one that is alone with nobody around to observe you, since there are no outside influences.
    To go back to the allegory of the cave, they’re all just “shadow you”, with the real self only being an idea. Since our existence is in this world, and not the ideal one, each and every “self” is the real one. They don’t need to be combined to be “you”, and none of them is “you” more than the others. Depending on the context, they appear to be different things (like shadow animals. They appear to be something, but really they are all just your hand), but in the end, they are all your real identity.

    • What I think I’m gathering from this thread of comments — and I LOVE the wide array of views — is that self is so much a matter of perspective.

      As the owner or possessor of that self we’re so much more aware of the extent to which we adapt it to others.

      Something I didn’t touch on in the post (although I had intended to) was the extent of that separation though. One thing that constantly surprises me is the conscious effort it takes to draw upon the skills you have at work for the betterment of your home/personal life.

      My hypothesis on this is that it is at least in part driven by the work/life balance shift in the work place and the push to essentially ‘switch off and disconnect’ to refresh yourself while away from work.

  2. My blog is cathartic. It’s also in the letterhead for my resume. There are certain topics that I consciously don’t write about, moreso because they are debate/subjective and the blogging medium is not good for that. I’ll have those chats over a beer though!

    In the work space, the whole-self conversation is hard. Frankly, it depends a lot on the other people in the group and their ability to manage person and role. I have some staff where it’s easier to be myself, since they understand that when I task them with work, it needs to get done. Others where I need to maintain a more distant relationship because there’s a blurred line between friend/boss.

    And really, the concept here is not that you should or should not be yourself, but that you’re conscious that it’s others perception of you (paradigm/shadow) that is what makes/breaks that model. It’s all you, seen through a billion set of eyes.
    Asmiroth recently posted…Classic FeaturesMy Profile

    • The thought of including this blog — any blog! — on my resume is legitimately terrifying to me. Haha. Yet I applaud that you have done so.

      Perhaps I’ll need to start reconsidering my position on keeping all this so separate over time. It seems like a fair number of people are more open to it now than perhaps I thought.

      My current rationale / background on why not is in more detail in the reply to Roger below though if curious.

  3. “Years upon years of working in a corporate environment trains us how to act at work. How to present ourselves. How to talk. There is even an expected language of the environment that extends beyond simply the technical jargon specific to any given area” And this is why I stopped working for others and went self employed. I can’t be doing with this having to turn parts of your personality on and off, according to where you are and who you’re talking too.

    As a white, middle-class, middle-aged man, I know very little of discrimination and prejudice. So there aspects of this culture of having to adopt a “persona” that I haven’t encountered or haven’t needed to worry about. I’ve always been in the overlap of the Venn Diagram. But I recognise that for others this is not the case.

    Perhaps I amplify myself a little via my blog, but I genuinely think what is present in my writing is the real me. What I’m like in real life bleeds though into other things I do. If my Tweets are filled with flip remarks, it’s because I do this all the time elsewhere. I make the same remarks to the person serving me at the supermarket.

    It may also be relevant that I made a decision quite early on with my writing, to use my real name. That is quite liberating.
    Roger Edwards recently posted…The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)My Profile

    • Also a white, middle-class (now approaching) middle-aged male. So I would never try to cry foul of discrimination and prejudice either. And in fact where our company landed on what was ‘meant’ by ‘whole self’ was an intent to create a safe space to bring in aspects of your culture, religion, sexuality, gender identity, etc.

      And on that front while I have no illusions about there being much, much, much further to go as a society, the internal culture seems to have legitimately improved for the better.

      But for all that, I’d still not be comfortable using my real name here openly, or going so far as to include this on my resume as Asmiroth has.

      Even through a period where we’re *literally* starting to assess how we can court the gamer segment of the market, there is still a stigma attached. I’m not even talking about the more extreme cases shown in the US lately in relation to the shootings. But more the general lack of understanding (at a core, emotional level, even though we understand it perfectly well at a statistical or intellectual level) that the average age of a ‘gamer’ has shot upward, and that being one doesn’t necessarily tell you anything of maturity levels or intelligence.

      It didn’t help I suppose that I started out in this space relatively young. There is a wider diversity of age now, but I was the definite youngest by a decent margin for a while.

      Those two facts, I think, led to keeping quite a tight lid on all this.

      Now? I think I could absolutely share this around and after an initial adjustment be completely fine. But since I’m not in a position to seriously consider self-employment yet, if I ever wanted to look outside the company?

      I’d still be worried about the potential initial impression created there.

      Beyond that though — I agree with you. I think I sort of surprised myself by reaching a similar conclusion within the post. That online me is every bit a ‘real’ version of me as any other. It could be argued more real in some respects. Certainly this version is more open to providing more inner-insight and transparency around introspection than any other.

  4. I see this completely differently. Yes, we all adopt “personas” although I think what we’re really talking about here is “registers” . I don’t see this as anything remotely close to a separation of the self. Your “whole self” is all of these personas and registers, and by that I don’t mean there’s a gestalt, I mean that each of them is You and none of them is more “You” than your arm or your leg is You.

    When you’re sitting at a table in a pub chatting, no-one is interested in what your legs are doing, least of al you. If you’re playing soccer, though, your legs become the most important aspect of your existence. Same with personas and registers. Each is the whole you that matters at the time its in play. You decide what you allow into that sphere from the much wider choice available to you and that is the You for then.

    I vary my blogging persona according to mood, circumstance and experience. I allow a lot more of the non-gaming Me into the blogging me these days than I used to do but I am editing still. That’s 100% normal and as it should be. I am always 100% me whatever I do and wherever I am. It’s my choice how much of that 100% I choose to use.

    • I love the spectrum of takes here. I’ll have to consider the registers vs. self consideration a bit more, but my initial reaction is that there is more to it than that.

      Having said that — the rest of what you say resonates. I’m more convinced now that there is another post in here, at some point.
      Naithin recently posted…Separation of SelfMy Profile

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