We are Awash in Persona, Drowning Perhaps
The professional persona, the complex web of how we present ourselves and our expected knowledge, skills, and abilities, is a high-level example of persona-shaping. Persona is what we want other people to experience and perhaps rely on when they observe and interact with us. We simultaneously build connections to the world around us and maintain barriers against intrusion into our inner psychological worlds (Ego and Shadow). We work hard to build and preserve our reputations. Be seen and not seen at the same time, project and protect.
Here’s an interesting exercise: Choose a day to be especially observant and conscious of the multiple ways you adjust how you present and interact (or don’t) with the various people and situations you encounter that day. Notice the constant shaping of your Persona to sync with people and situations; notice the feedback when you fail to, choose not to, or are simply unable to sync.
Persona is not a static mask we wear. Persona is a dynamic shaping process. As I pointed out in Persona, the Public Face:
Persona is more a reflection of the collective values and expectations, than personally created, being at heart the adaptation to the social environment of family, culture, and society. The person particularly bound to the dictates of the collective environment without reflection is the most identified with the Persona.
The Center of Consciousness, the Ego, tends to over-identify with it’s Persona. For most people the “locus of control” is external. Always turned out and cognizant of the expectations of their environment, either quickly shifting with the changes in the surrounding environment or narrowing that environment to only deal with particular types of people. As we grow, we develop a greater ability to shape shift somewhat quickly, even as the composition of the group we are with changes, or simply walk into the next office at work. Our sense of proper persona can easily become rigidified.
From the moment we wake, we navigate the social milieu. Observe how you interact with your partner, your friends, your new love interest, your kids, your coworkers, your boss, the other gender, people of another race or ethnicity, your boss’s boss, the barista at the coffee shop, strangers,… Observe how you come to understand what is appropriate and not with those different people and in different settings. Notice how you shape shift.
Notice your vigilance. Notice your discomfort when you are out of sync with your social environment and, conversely, the discomfort of people in different environments when you are innocently or flagrantly not syncing; when you aren’t acting as they think you should be acting; you don’t look like they think you should look. Notice race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, age…
Turn on your TV and observe the myriad ways advertising plays into this dynamic persona-shaping process. We’re bombarded with messages, products and services that are designed to impact our public faces. Branding is a company’s persona-shaping activity.
Watch politicians shape both their Personas and their opponents’ Personas.
We make judgments about people as we experience their Personas. Narrow, rigid personas are intolerant, even afraid of a diversity of personas. Observe discrimination. Notice how dangerous, even deadly, the inability or unwillingness to adapt the Persona to the social environment (for whatever reason–where someone is seen as other) can be. Think hate crimes, religious persecution, lynching, genocide. Think ISIS.
How can such an essential aspect of our psyche be so destructive? To be conscious, we need to understand Persona’s ever-present twin, Shadow, and the dynamics of Polarities.