In defense of masks by Kenneth Gergen
essay question: what is Gergen’s thesis regarding the idea of “a coherent sense of identity” versus the idea of multiple identities represented by masks? Do you agree
with his position? Be sure to support your position with concrete example; these examples may come from your personal experience and observations, or from thing you
have read, including material from this course.(be specific in the examples and point out agree or disagree in the first paragraph and be clear in the thesis)——
here is the reading for the essay.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius advises his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any
man.”Polonius undoubtedly had good intentions; his counsel to his son seems entirely reasonable, and fits our religious and moral values. But it is poor psychology. i
think we are not apt to find a single basic self to which we can be true.
Writer from poet Alexander Pope to sociologist Erving Goffman have been alternately impressed and irritated by the use of masks in social life.Psychologists like Erik
Erikson speak of self-alienation, a depressed feeling of estrangement from the masks of identity that society forces on the individual. Such critics and psychologists
have been working on two assumptions: that it is normal for a person to develop a firm and coherent sense of identity, and that it is good and healthy to do so, and
pathological not to. My research over the past few years has led me to question both of these assumptions very seriously. I doubt that people normally develop a
coherent sense of identity, and believe that, to the extent that they do, they may experience severe emotional distress.
My colleagues and i designed a series of studies to explore the shifting masks of identity, hoping to document the shifts in an empirically reliable way. we wanted to
find the factors that influence the individual’s choice of masks; we were interested in both outward appearances and in ward feeling of personal identity. For
instance, in one experiment a woman whom we identified as a clinical trainee interviewed eighteen female college students. She asked each student a variety of
questions about her background, then sixty questions about how she saw herself. Every time that the student gave a self-evaluation that was more positive than the
norm, the interviewer showed subtle sign of approval: She nodded her head, smiled, occasionally spoke agreement. Conversely, she would shake her head, frown, or speak
disagreement. It became clear to the student that the trainee took a very positive view of her. As a result of this procedure, the students’ self-evaluations became
progressively more positive. This increase was significantly greater than the minimal change that occurred in the control condition, a parallel series of interviewers
in which eighteen other students received no feedback from the trainee.
This finding demonstrates that it is easy to modify the mask of identity, but it says little about underlying feelings. Did the young women think they were misleading
the interviewer—telling her one thing while very secretly believed something else? After the interview, to check on their private evaluations of themselves, we asked
the students to undertake honest self-ratings that were not be seen by the interviewer. Comparing these self-ratings to those taken in other circumstances a month
earlier, we found significant increases in the self-esteem of students who had receiver the positive feedback; we found no such increases in control condition. One
student in the experimental group told me later: ” You know, it is very strange; I spent the rest of the day whistling and singing. Something about that interview
really made me happy.
we also studied the relationship between masks and motives in several experiments, most of them based o approval-seeking. Carl Rogers pointed out that the warm regard
of others is vital to feelings of self-regard and hence to feeling of personal worth. So we asked: How do individuals present themselves when they want to gain the
approval of others? In experiments designed to answer this question, we varied the characteristics of the other in systematic ways. The other person might be senior to
the subject in authority, or junior; open and revealing, or closed and remote; a stern taskmaster or an easygoing boss. when an individual seeks approval from this
diverse range of personalities, he or she adopts wholly different masks or public identities. When people are not seeking approval, their self-presentations are much
different in character. Taken together, our experiments document the remarkable flexibility of the self. We are made of soft plastic, and molded by social
circumstances. But we should not conclude that all of our relationships are fake: Subjects in our studies generally believe in the masks they wore. Once donned, the
mask becomes reality.
i believe we must abandon the assumption that normal development equips the individual with a coherent sense of identity. In the richness of human relations, a person
receives varied messages about who he is. Parents, friends, lovers, teachers, kin, counselors, acquaintances all behave differently toward us; in each relationship, we
learn something new about ourselves, and, as the relations change, so do the messages. The lessons are seldom connected and they are often inconsistent. In this light,
the value that society places on a coherent identity is unwarranted and possibly detrimental. It means that the vegetarian must worry about cravings for bacon, the
commune dweller about cravings for a ride in a Benz, the husband or wife about fantasies of infidelity. All of us are burdened by the code of coherence, which demands
that we ask: How can i be X if i am already Y, its opposite? We should ask instead: what is causing me to be X at this time? We may be justifiably concerned with
tendencies that disrupt our preferred modes of living and loving, but we should not be anxious, depressed, or disgusted when we find a multitude of interest,
potentials, and selves.
The mask may be not symbol of superficiality that we have thought it was, but instead the means of realizing our potential. Walt Whitman writes: ” Do i contradict
myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.(i am large. i contain multitudes.)
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