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Sense of Self

How do we acquire our sense of self? From whence does it come? It seems clear that we are not born with it. What's involved in the process of acquiring a sense of self? I'm drawn to the explanations offered by C. H. Cooley in 1902, and subsequently modified by G. H. Mead in 1927. Cooley famously descried the “looking glass self”. We see ourselves reflected in others – we see how they see us. That gives us an initial sense of ourselves. We work with that reflected self, building up a self image that fits (more or less well) the self we see reflected from others. Hence, the “looking glass self”.

Mead drew attention to communication and the social context in the construction of a sense of self. We need language in order to formulate any meaningful sense of self, and language is basically a social act. Yes, we develop our sense of self through interactions with others, and internal interactions with ourselves. But the process is far more multi-dimensional than that described by Cooley. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology contains a useful presentation on self (excerpt on self and self-concept).

An interesting (to me) side note concerns what happens to our sense of self when we enter the Third Age. Radical changes may be required. One key change for those coming from the working world is that their existence can no longer revolve around work. What replaces that central activity, and what replaces the central self image as a member of the working world? There are other changes that may be required. We're no longer as physically adept as we once were. We can no longer deny that age has had an impact. What must change in our sense of self?

I have an hypothesis about the Third Age and our sense of self. Discontent is almost inevitable if we cannot modify our sense of self to fit the physical, psychological, and economic realities we face in the Third Age. Things are different. We need to be different. Our sense of self must change if we are not to be discontented.

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