Be yourself = It may or may not rain

Temporally speaking, I should have posted this comment before the one below. This blogger is not an idiot, she’s ok. But her writing, at times, easily peeves me. Anyway, I’m not going to assess her writing skills or anything, I’ll just get to the comment that I made in response to this post of hers. The post is all “you go girl” toned, the kind Twisty lambastes in her blog.

She starts off well (all bolds and italics are as in the original post),

One of my friends always say 'I'm an Indian girl, very traditonal, I have a culture to preserve...etc' and I used to ask her this. Shelby are you really all Indian? Cos we are in this imaginary world sometimes forgetting the fact that though we are Indian/Sri Lankan/Chinese/English/Aussie/Canadian etc by origin, that we are really many more than just that.

From what seems to be a deeply thought out question, she makes a nosedive to say,

I'm a family-loving Greek woman when I watch TV with my mother and aunt instead of going out with the boys…,…I'm a hardworking Asian woman when I'm at work earning my dough,…
It gets worse

I have every trait and I'm every woman. What matters is being who you are, not labeling/branding yourself to be one thing just cos of brand-loyalty. That doesn't mean you should be someone else, but it means don't be forced to hide what you are based on a passed label. Be proud of your origins but never let that loyalty cost you your originality.

She has deconstructed, though partially, the myth of having a single cultural identity and otherwise. But in the process she has constructed new identity(ies). The most problematic, at least for me, is “your originality”. So I left a short comment for which, as someone whose ego is picked, she gave pseudo-wise reply. I’ll now paste parts of the exchange. It’s going to be too long and probably too boring. Well, I’m not in to the whole brevity thing, so who cares?

Comment 1:

{{What matters is being who you are}} - Well, who you are is the question that is moot.
"be yourself" is an age old clichéd cousin of what you've said above. You've listed a whole bunch of constructions which themselves are nothing short of prejudiced generalizations.
Why? An American is devoid of family love? Or is an Indian not supposed to enjoy sports? You are perpetuating the very element that you're criticising.

Reply 1:

what I mean is be what ur istincts r telling u to be. I guess u didnt get that.

**Why? An American is devoid of family love?

did I say that? U interpreted my example in that manner and I cant help that. What I have used in those examples r in fact MAJOR traits of women in this world. Surely u dun see MOST Indian women in bars d u? It's the MAIN cultural characteristics I have laid out in the examples. Not prejudices at all!

Comment 2:

Ok back to basic deconstruction

{{yes and? what I mean is be what ur istincts r telling u to be. I guess u didnt get that.}} - What does instinct mean? Or what is an instinct in general? Can a person who has never driven before "instinctively" hit the breaks when an animal (or whatever) runs in to your car? Oh, how can a person drive if he/she doesn't know how to drive, let alone stopping the car in time? - is that your question?
That's exactly the point. What you call instincts are nothing but social constructions that you internalized over a period of time that it, from the conscious then to the subconscious, has entered a part of your mind that's called an instinct. So, we are not just born with instincts, we develop them according to our environment (or to put it a little theoretically, habitus).

So if you're a "victim" of American pop-culture, your "instinctive" reaction to pizza would probably be "whoa, that's a lot of calories". The reaction is not you; even your instinct is not you, for 'you' do not exist. You are a personification of your circumstances and surroundings and to an extent, genes (and genes know nothing about calories or good/bad sports). So when you say "be yourself", all it means is, "continue to personify whatever you personified before that moment" - which need always be right or wrong (the nature of the embodiment and how you judge 'right' or 'wrong' are debatable). So your statement, in its essence, is pointless. It's like a weatherman's prediction that goes "it may or may not rain today!”

{{What I have used in those examples r in fact MAJOR traits of women in this world.}} - What you used in your examples are stereotypes that are euphemistically referred to as culture. Of course, you can always hide under the mask "that's the way you see it" - a universal text book example of rhetorical escapism. You say what you want to say. What you say, regardless of what you mean, means something independently (a naked man is a naked man).

{{t's the MAIN cultural characteristics I have laid out in the examples.}} - What you call "cultural characteristics" are nothing but transitory behavioural traits (which are influenced by several elements including, but not limited to, media, family, memes, financial set up etc.).

{{Surely u dun see MOST Indian women in bars do u?}} - I don't see women in India driving SUVs either. I can tell you tonnes of other things that you cannot see a lot of women in India doing. There are several reasons for that; economic status being one of those, very significant one at that. And talking about women in bars: women from the socially wealthy or "upper class" can be seen in all page 3 parties and other social get-togethers on par with men. If culture is the factor that stops Indian women from going to bars, I wouldn't see any "Page 3" personality that is a woman. Or we should probably take it as rich Indian women have no culture (or that theirs is more "westernised").
Another example: all poor people have certain food habits, if food habits is an indicator of culture, then poverty defines culture (at least for a lot of people in India). So, maintaining their culture would probably mean they should continue to be poor. In that sense "be yourself" would mean "be poor, always!"
What is my point?
Culture is not as tangible as it may seem, if it was tangible it is not as observable, if it was observable it is still not generalizable (regardless of how many people ape it), if it is generalized let it not be done loosely (like it’s done in your post).

It might be worthwhile to quote what I said, in a moment of absolute genius, about one's self, in this post,
The idea of one's self is very murky and sometimes void. Self is nothing but a construction of an individual's perceptions built on reflecting his/her notions and ideas on various people and places under different circumstances...This construction goes on in a continuum, for you cannot say "Now that I'm 20, I have a self and I won't let anything change it no matter what".
In the same sense, "originality" is mostly a fleeting conception. Twisty had made this interesting post on culture, I wouldn't necessarily use the same expletives, but she's sure right.

Disclaimer: Some of the ideas that I've expressed are highly qualified(2) and probably need some footnotes. I'll provide them later. I've quoted only parts my comment, the whole unedited version of comment can be found here, just scroll all the way down. The longest is mine!


Anonymous said...

"The reaction is not you; even your instinct is not you, for 'you' do not exist." - I understand most of what you said except for this line. what are you saying? there's no such thing called an individual? Hardwork, learning, understanding, intelligence are all meaningless values?
The way you problematize expression "be yourself" suggests that you have problem with several other expressions without which you cannot possibly make a meaningful conversation. Are you suggesting a better use of language or the ideology behind it?

Suresh said...

That's a good question; I think I'll need some time to give you a good answer. Because, though I call myself a nihilist, I do attribute meanings to things around me. And I definitely give a lot of meaning to what I say, so I don't want to give a self-defeating answer by saying "yes, they are all meaningless". I don't always believe in it (but sometimes I do).

I problematize expressions when they are not just part of our everyday conversation; when it's taken to the level of a factual reference. You often hear friends giving others a "psychological boost" before a presentation or an audition or the first date saying "be yourself". While it has some meaning to it, it's also meaningless, especially when you measure it in terms whether it will be particularly useful.

Ex: If my friend introduces me to a girl he knows and if he thinks that the girl will like me the way I am known to my friend, he would probably say "be yourself". In this scenario it makes perfect sense, because, whether being myself means "rude and cocky" or "funny and cool" he knows that it will work. Now, he may not say the same thing when he's forwarding my résumé for an interview in his office. In this case he might say "Don't talk like a smart ass as usual, try to tone down your answers". Now, this is definitely not "being myself", at least according to him. But if I think that being like that is a good thing, I may adopt it and I’ll no longer "be myself" as I used to, but I'll be myself as I want to now.
So if the phrase “be yourself” is used as a filler just like “you’re cool” or “you rock”, go ahead use it whenever you want however you want. But don’t emphasize it like there’s some inherently profound meaning or truth in it.

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