Humans lack complex instincts that narrowly determine our actions and interactions. As such, we must construct culture in order to make our way through the world. We do this through our everyday actions with others. In an interview about fiction writing and the presentation of complex characters, Marilynne Robinson (author of Housekeeping: A Novel and Gilead, along with numerous essays) considers what we might learn from analyzing such interactions and suggests that who we are is much deeper than just the surface constructions that result. This quote comes from “A Conversation with Marilynne Robinson: April 24, 2006” [.pdf] by Sarah Flynn, Thomas King, and Adam O’Connor Rodriguez:

“Behavior you see in other people is the lingua franca behavior through which, normally speaking, we can be adequately intelligble to one another. We cannot alarm or puzzle one another excessively. And this is something that you learn, sort of like manners or the shorthand language of please and thank you. It is not intended to be a revelation of one’s character; it’s intended to pass through the world without exposing yourself, without damaging other people in ways you don’t want to. There’s inevitable role-playing that is a huge part of anybody’s behavior in life. This is not a negative statement. This is just the way we create a sort of uniform currency to make ourselves understandable, to be able to be adequate in circumstances that are perhaps casual, perhaps formal, perhaps very brief, and so on. If that level of anyone’s personality or character is taken to be a sufficient description of them, then obviously you have missed the whole human mystery, as far as that person is concerned. Being accepted at that level of self-revelation trivializes people.”

What consequences might this perspective have for the role of human agency? What about the depth to which socialization reaches within us? To what extent are we products of our environment or constructors of our realities?

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