In I Heart Huckabees, Bernard and Vivian are existential detectives. They work with Brad Stand who hires their existential detective agency with less than pure motives. Despite Brad’s reluctance, Bernard and Vivian eventually do affect Brad. By repeating “How am I not myself?” over and over they plant this idea just below the level of conscious awareness into Brad’s mind.
How am I not myself is not just an intriguing question for Brad, but something that can be provocative for all of us. Am I who I want to be? How much do I adapt my behavior and choices to fit the expectations and preferences of others? How much is such adaptation proper and when does one become inauthentic or directionless from overmuch adaptation? I am not myself when I don’t buy what I want because someone else is with me. Yet, if I wear more or less formal clothes to suit a particular situation I can still be myself. I needn’t forever be formal or casual and never change. However, there are other axes besides casual vs. formal and perhaps there I should hold fast.
When I adapt myself to suit others this is not merely me being true to myself or not, but also testifies to who I am. A willingness to make others happy and comfortable seems positive. On the other hand, when framed as being weak willed or unreliable it seems quite negative. I worry that I am not being true to myself, but to whom am I referring?
One way of conceptualizing who I am is the role models I have chosen and the degree to which I correspond to their qualities. With this measurement I am truer to “myself” if I more closely correspond to the qualities of those role models. Of course this becomes problematic because in this understanding “myself” does not change over time. Instead I either grow truer or less true to “myself”. Identity quickly becomes nebulous. The one place where this measurement is strong is that it is indicative of desire and aspiration.
In a discussion today, some friends and I compared aspirational self with “true” self. Aspirational self would fit with my role model conceptualization plus a sort of implied projection into the future. If “true” self represents a single moment in time then it has a more objective nature. My “true” self in this case may be whatever behavior I am currently displaying. The tight connection to my current behavior offers responsibility, accountability. On the other hand, for my “true” self to be whatever I currently am discounts my desires and hopes for myself in an unacceptable way.
To be truly me my “true” self must be more than any single moment and include both where I am currently and movement toward a goal. I am neither merely my goals nor merely my current behaviors and traits yet I am both of those things. I build a model of who I would like to be by taking qualities from various role models and choosing the proportions of one to another. While I occasionally find myself frustrated that I am not this role model or that one it does not mean that I have failed. I can continue to mold and shape who I am and who I am going to be.
I apologize for the abstraction and level of intellectualization in this blog post, but it seems that I am not ready for an unfiltered discussion of how I interact with the matter of identity.