The Self and Identity Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Searching for One's Self

The rigors and difficulty associated with finding the self-presented by Robert Thurman and Azar Nafisi contrast with the idea of selfhood presented by Jean Twenge in markedly different ways. This fact is underscored all the more clearly by reading Thurman's "Wisdom," Nafisi's "Selections from Reading Lolita in Tehran" and Twenge's "An Army of One: Me." Specifically, Thurman and Nafisi are actually concerned with an exploration of the self to discover a unique identity within an individual. Twenge, on the other hand, is writing about the self in relation to the concept of selfishness, and largely posits the notion that the preoccupation with the self that typifies contemporary society is innately limiting in this regard. Quite simply, there is no difficulty associated with the sort of selfish selfhood that Twenge writes about, whereas such difficulties dominate the writings of Thurman and Nafisis because they are about finding a unique identity for the self.

Twenge has become a fairly popular writer in recent times due to her conception of what she posits as the 'me generation'. The core of this idea is that people in contemporary times are preoccupied with themselves to the exclusion of other people, and live in a world that "celebrated the individual" (Twenge 492). More accurately, perhaps, is the sentiment that the author believes people in modern times are concerned about their needs before those of others, and that there are several different facets of life in these times that help them to maintain this sort of narcissism. In that regard, then, the selfhood that Twenge discusses in this particular essay is largely based on a selfishness that is reinforced by different social mechanisms that were not necessarily in place before. Thus, there are few positive attributes which the author bestows upon the preoccupation with self that she believes is prominent in contemporary times, because that self is all about selfishness.

What is perhaps most compelling about the argument that Twenge makes concerning the preoccupation with self that the Me Generation has is the fact that she believes it is rooted in a sense of entitlement. Twenge's essay is filled with numerous examples about the various ways that society has made a dedicated effort -- in recent times -- to inflate the self-esteem of children and young people to the point where they believe that they are entitled to the best. The problem with this sense of entitlement is that this generation believes that it is automatically entitled to the best, without having to necessarily earn it. This notion leads to a "cotton candy sense of self with no basis in reality" (Twenge 57). For instance, the author states that efforts to inflate grades and to curb criticism of students contributes to this effect. The sense of entitlement that she attributes to this generation has a direct correlation to selfishness. The Me Generation believes that because it is entitled to the best without having to earn such pleasures, it is only natural to focus on themselves to the exclusion of others. Nonetheless, the most notable facet about this conception of entitlement and the narcissistic sort of selfishness it produces is that it is limiting. The Me Generation is preoccupied with themselves and what they feel they deserve to the point that they never truly expand beyond themselves. The self represents the capital point of fascination and exploration in their existence, and becomes the defining point of the identity of the individuals of this generation. They never seek to explore what other facets of life and their existence are to be found beyond their own selfhoods. This point of limitation is viewed by the author as a negative trait in the lives of members of this generation, as references to the Columbine killers makes abundantly clear.

In many ways, the work of Thurman represents an antithesis of thought of the self as posed by Twenge. This fact is most palpably demonstrated by the reality that Thurman is awareness that there is a selfishness which naturally encompasses one's identity. However, he is more preoccupied with a person's ability to move beyond such selfishness and that part of himself or herself so that he or she can seek his or her true identity. Although Twenge does not necessarily approve of the notion of selfhood and self that she writes about believes characterizes the Me Generation, her writing never truly explores anything more to the self than mere selfishness. Thurman starts out his concept of exploring and identifying the true self with the notion of selfishness, but that is just the entry point to a longer, more profound journey -- the likes of which Twenge does not even discuss. The former author alludes to this fact when he writes, "Your falsely perceived, fixated, domineering self is precisely what's getting between you and a fulfilling life" (442). In this quotation, it is evident that the author is positing the fact that there is an obstacle between one's selfhood and true fulfillment, and that this obstacle is actually the negative aspects of the self that are similar to those discussed by Twenge. The implication, then, is that the individual needs to get rid of these negative attributes, those that are "fixated" one selfishness and a perception of falsehood. If nothing else, the selfishness that Twenge widely alludes to in her work is about a falsehood created by a narcissistic preoccupation with one's own self. Thurman, then, acknowledges the fact that such a preoccupation exists, but only in the wider context of getting beyond that to actualize one's true self and identity.

Additionally, Thurman devotes a fair amount of time in his text to the idea that Twenge centralizes -- that of individual selfishness and its limitation. The former author, however, refers to this notion as that of one's own inner demon. It is significant to realize that he does acknowledge that such negativity does exist within a person, and that it can produce a detrimental effect upon one if left unchecked. That is why Thurman makes the point abundantly clear that it is first necessary for people to free themselves of this inner demon before they can embark on the search to find their true self. This point is fairly vital to Thurman's essay, and to comparing his notion of the self and selfhood with that of Twenge. Twenge focuses on one's own inner selfishness entirely in her essay -- it is the beginning and ending point of it. Thurman acknowledges the existence of such selfishness in the beginning of one's process of forming and identity, and advocates obliterating it to get beyond it and to truly find one's identity, which he refers to as a "new awareness" (752). What is important about this fact is that once that inner demon is destroyed Thurman believes that people will find a basic connection with other people, other beings, and other things. Thus, he believes that the demon is merely a roadblock that, once removed, allows for a connection with others that is the opposite to the sort of selfishness that Twenge discusses, in which the Me Generation believes "The real person I need tp please is myself" (492). The implications are that one is able to form one's own true identity and to actually define one's own self through a connection with others that requires a sort of selflessness. Such a selflessness is never mentioned by Twenge. However, that selflessness -- rooted in the connection that Thurman believes exists in people truly attempting to define their own identities -- forms the basis of the more prominent selfhood that Thurman writes about at great length.

The difficulties associated with finding the self-presented in Nafisi's work is markedly different than the conception of the self identified in both the texts of Twenge and of Thurman. The women described in Nafisi's account have to make a dedicated effort to emerge from the bland landscape of head wraps and scarves, since they exist in a part of the world in which women must be covered up except for their face. However, every time these women entered the author's home for a class about literature they were able to express themselves in a way in which they largely could not throughout the rest of the city of Tehran. In this respect, the notion of selfhood advocated in this work is one of individuality which the author explains is a way to "give shape to our vision and identity" (295) -- and which is not to be confused whatsoever by the sort of selfishness that Twenge chronicles. The Me Generation believes that it was "born into a world that already celebrated the individual" (Twenge 490). Again, the principle point of distinction between the self described in Twenge's work and that in Nafisis's is exploration. There is an exploration and an unveiling of the self in Nafisi's text, which is a cry for individuality. It is accessed and transmitted through the laughter of these young women: through their…

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