George Herbert Mead argued that individuals play multiple roles in society; anticipating the reactions of others through our own perceptions of how others perceive us. ‘Me’ is how a person thinks others see him or her.
The importance of ‘me’ is something parents actively institute in their children. If I was caught somewhat unkempt, my mother would demand I “try to look as though someone loves you!” In the early years, peer pressure is a new parent’s closest ally: “The other kids are sitting nicely at the table, so should you!” Later on, children learn “If Grandma hears that language, she’ll turn you over her knee!”
Now that I am a mother, I am very conscious of my own insecurities that are rooted solely in how I imagine others see me. My mom’s friend Wendy always says: “Don’t should yourself!” An obvious play on words that accidentally points out a missing component in Habermas’ theories on social norms. Habermas understood how people “fit in,” but not how people stand out.
Deconstructionists, such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler challenge the assumption that norms are natural or inherent. We assign arbitrary meanings to everything by drawing contrasts, not even gender can be defined without it’s “binary opposite.” Butler seeks out the exclusion of non-normative individuals.
In many ways, I fear my own perception of ‘me’ has restrained me to specific social roles and limited my own potential to effect social change. If normal is arbitrary and average, then I solemnly swear never to utter the words: “What will other people think?” to either my daughter or my son! It’s a small step, but perhaps through them, my sense of ‘I’ can overcome ‘me!’
Live within limits without limiting life
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