Discover more from The Iceberg - Mike Drayton
The Many Masks We Wear
Understanding and Accepting Our Mini-Personalities
Huw Edwards, the man entrusted with delivering the news to the world of Queen Elizabeth II's passing and subsequently leading the BBC's coverage of her funeral, has suffered a severe blow to his reputation. The once-respected image of integrity and dignity, embodied by his face and trusted voice as the main anchor of BBC TV News, has been tarnished.
How do you reconcile the fact that any admired and esteemed celebrity might have a darker side that doesn't align with their respected status?
The story of Huw Edwards is a sad one and raises the question of why people who are outwardly successful, intelligent and respected - people who seem to have everything - behave in a manner that risks everything?
The Times journalist Andrew Billen had had lunch with Edwards hours before the newsreader was informed of the allegations against him. Billen wrote he was "in high spirits" during the meal and was "certainly not a man with a tremendous dark cloud hanging over him". He went on “…the allegations when they broke this weekend and Huw’s name began to be mentioned were personally upsetting to me and flew against everything I was convinced I knew about the man.” Well, Billen didn’t know Huw Edwards, he knew only one part of Edwards, the part he chose to present to the world.
The question, "Who am I?" has underpinned philosophical and psychological thought for centuries. The prevailing belief has always been in the existence of a singular, consistent personality. But consider your own experiences. Have you ever found yourself dealing with contradicting thoughts and emotions, like a symphony of varied voices playing within your head?
In the course of your work day, have you ever found yourself switching between roles - the decisive leader in a boardroom meeting, the patient mediator resolving a conflict, or the impatient and opinionated one in a team meeting? Have you ever paused to ask, "Who am I really?" amid these changing personas? This journey of self-inquiry may not just be about uncovering one consistent identity, but rather about recognising a multitude of mini-personalities within you. We all carry within us a spectrum of different 'selves' that surface in response to our contexts, akin to an orchestra playing different tunes in harmony.
This notion of multiple sub-personalities within us is not new. Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet, creatively embodied this concept through his heteronyms - fully-fleshed alter egos with distinct back stories and personalities. Much like Pessoa's 'heteronyms,' we too have different facets of our identity that surface in varied circumstances. He encapsulated this idea in his poem:
"Countless lives inhabit us
I don't know, when I think or feel,
who it is that thinks or feels.
I am merely the place
where things are thought or felt.
I have more than just one soul.
There are more I's than I myself
I exist, nevertheless
indifferent to them and
I silence them: I speak"
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung similarly proposed that our personality comprises numerous 'complexes.' The persona we present to the world is one such 'complex,' a term derived from the Greek word for a mask used in theatre. But behind that mask exists a multitude of other selves, each offering a unique response to our environments.
Erving Goffman also explores this idea in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956). He uses the metaphor of a theatre to depict social interaction, suggesting that we each play a variety of roles in different scenes of life - like actors on a stage. We wear various 'masks' in response to our audience and the context, shifting between backstage (private) and front stage (public) personas. These mini-personalities - or roles - we assume are not false but are integral facets of our identity. They surface or recede depending on the 'scene' we are part of, further emphasising the multiplicity of our identity.
If we embrace this concept of multiple selves, it not only reframes our understanding of ourselves but also changes the way we perceive others. Consider Charlie, your friend who is both kind and judgemental, or Karen, the diligent senior nurse whose personal life is in disarray. These contrasting facets are not isolated or false - they are simply different mini-personalities that coexist within each individual.
However, accepting this complex picture of identity might be disconcerting. It challenges our assumption of a unified, coherent self. Yet, it also liberates us from the constraints of singular labels. We are not just a 'profession,' an 'anxious person,' or a 'confident professional.' We are a vibrant mosaic of all these identities, offering us infinite possibilities for self-expression and growth. Consider that you are, in Pessoa's words, “merely the place where things are thought and felt."
There’s a cliche spoken by the diversity and inclusion trainers that says we should all be encouraged to “bring our whole selves to work.” I disagree. If you have ever been bullied at work, you’d probably agree that the bully shouldn’t have brought their aggressive and sadistic ‘self’ to work . We all have a dark side; what Jung called our Shadow. We should strive to understand the different people who live within us and put a boundary around the destructive parts of our personalities rather than act them out in the workplace.
We should embrace these multiple selves, for they collectively form the dynamic, complex identities we hold. Simultaneously, by acknowledging and understanding our darker aspects, our shadow side, we can take proactive steps to manage it,and make sure that our interactions, whether personal or professional, are shaped by respect and empathy.
Here's what you can do to understand and embrace this multiplicity of selves in your professional life:
Self-reflection: Regularly take time out to introspect and recognise the various sub-personalities within you. Notice how they influence your behaviour in different situations.
Balanced approach: Strive for a holistic life that balances work, family, friends, and personal interests. This encourages a harmonious coexistence of your different selves.
Empathy: Apply this understanding of multiple selves to your interactions with others. It can help you comprehend their actions and respond with more empathy and kindness.
We all possess multiple sub-personalities that surface in response to different circumstances.
This understanding liberates us from the constraints of singular identities and opens up infinite possibilities for self-expression and growth.
Accepting and working with our multiplicity can help us understand ourselves and others better and lead to more empathetic and meaningful interactions.
So, the next time you wonder, "Who am I?" remember, you are a complicated amalgamation of countless souls, each contributing to the unique and wonderful you.