It’s sort of weird to think about but each of us has a conception of ourselves, and everyone else around us as (people first, but then as) collections of things we’re capable of. Capable of helping us fix a computer, capable of having a drink with us without much notice, capable of enjoying a dinner party, capable of talking about our relationship, capable of making out with, etc.
It’s a simplification but we are simplifiers at our cores. We reduce things in our brains to their basic utilities, and have ways of unfolding those basic understandings into more well-rounded personalities, relationships, and people, but then folding them back up when we aren’t focused on the complexity of a particular person at a particular moment.
What’s been on my mind recently is how we come to some kind of understanding of ourselves, and our own capabilities, and our own self-worth. How we know if we’re doing what we should be doing. We think of ourselves as bags of capabilities for the most part as well. We have strengths, we have some weaknesses, we have our common uses, our rare abilities, our surprise tricks.
Subconsciously, I think I’ve been on a life-long mission to increase not only my bag of capabilities, but the awareness of my capabilities. It probably stemmed from years of being unpopular in school but knowing that I was capable of more than people thought I was. Having a very large bag of tricks… which I would only make known to people who bothered to get to know me. It was safer that way. But as I grow older and have a more public persona, I rely more on my “reputation” as a source of self-worth. I don’t think that’s necessarily a healthy thing, but it’s the truth. I suppose that some parts of my self-worth are still wrapped up in my personal understanding of myself and my intentions, but more of it is out there. Not necessarily with any one person or group of people, but spread across different groups of people who know different things about me, etc. My bag of capabilities is largely public. Whatever new capabilities or strengths I display are usually discovered by other people around me at the same time that I become aware of them myself. Starting a bar, for example, or building an iPhone app, or the upcoming parenthood project. I learn these new things publicly, and as a result largely determine my success at them based on public reaction. Is this screwed up? Am I a freak for saying that my sense of self-worth is tied so strongly to the opinions of others? I’m not sure.
Approvers can be anyone who notices that my bag of capabilities have increased (at least in their conception). If that noticed improvement also matches with my own personal understanding of myself, then that act of attention and approval results in an increase in my own sense of self-worth. Of a job well done. If it doesn’t match up (I already knew I could do what I am gaining recognition for doing) then it doesn’t really increase anything other than a sense of dissonance between me and others.
If, for example, I find out that I can be a good parent, that will be a big deal to me. Because I don’t know it yet, or, I haven’t demonstrated it. If I find out that I can run a successful business for iPhone apps or something else that I haven’t done yet, same deal. However, once I’ve learned that these new talents are a part of my “bag of capabilities” something interesting happens. I no longer thing it’s a big deal to get attention for such a thing, and I also have an even bigger set of capabilities that I’m expected to work with for my next project.
Approval leads to raised expectations because of an increase in capabilities to work with.
Anyway, that’s my tangential thought for today.