Analysis of Gergen’s Opinion on Multiple Identities and aCoherent Identity
In his essay, “In Defense of Masks,” Kenneth Gergen suggeststhat it is impossible for individuals to “normally develop acoherent sense of identity” and if they cultivate this coherence,they will experience serious emotional agony. In supporting hishypothesis, Gergen cites Shakespeare’s Hamlet and posits that it isa poor psychology to suggest that a person can find a fundamentalself, for which they will be true. He supports the notion of themultiple identities by contending that having masks increasesself-regard and personal worth. According to Gergen, “We are madeof soft plastic, and molded by social circumstances,” thus, peoplereceive diverse opinions on their self, which means asking them tobehave in a coherent manner is injurious (174). The author supportshis assertions by analyzing the results of students’self-evaluations, which concluded that signs of disapproval orapproval from the interviewer influenced the students’ images. Iagree with the author on the importance of multiple identities inallowing people not only realize their potential, but alsointerrelate with other individuals effectively. Thus, Gergen stressesthat masks are “means of realizing our potential,” and normaladvances do not equip people with a “coherent sense of identity”as assumed.
Gergen believes that individuals “must abandon the assumption thatnormal development equips the individual with a coherent sense ofidentity” (173). The claim signifies that people obtain variedperceptions from other persons or situations. Every environment orrelationship experienced allow individuals to learn things aboutthemselves that they did not appreciate or realize before. In mylife, I have experienced numerous situations, which have forced me tome wear a mask, for example, I behave courteously when relating withclients, but normally when relating with friends. Polhemus supportsthese sentiments by saying that “all the visual data iscross-indexed against an enormous data of bank of previous experienceto arrive at a tentative conclusion” (Para 4). Accordingly, normaldevelopment prepares people with multiple identities to discern eachsituation differently. Societal principles want people to behave in aconsistent manner, but without a mask, people will always find itdifficult to live up to the norms or face different passions. Thus,Gergen’s argument on normal development failing to equip peoplewith a sense of identity is outright correct.
Gergen rejects the conception of a distinct identity by saying thatsuch a clear sense fails to consider social circumstances. With thegrowing technology, culture, and societal needs, a single sense doesnot let people embrace the idea of enhancing. Thus, numerousidentities allow individuals to reach their full potential, as theyadopt varied masks to achieve what they desire to become. When I wasyoung, I was unsure of myself as I relied on a single identity, butlater in life (in high school), I realized that I had numerousinterests, which I had to fulfill. Therefore, multiple identitiesallowed me to fulfill the different interests I had. However, thedistinct sense pushed by society norms does not allow persons to trytheir fantasies or wishes (Ryan and Deci 230). I have come to notethat societies that extensively push the idea of a singular identityfrustrate people and only allow them to become what they are destinedto become. For example, some Arab societies push people to develop asingle identity, which forces women fail to realize their potentialas they cannot work toward their fantasies. Polhemus links“presentation of self” to a person’s identity as ones’appearance shows the uniqueness of an individual (Para 3). The ideaof appearance shows that people can handle pressure and fit in mostsocieties unlike those who have lived by the society norms of “acoherent sense of identity.” The anecdote of appearance shows thatmultiple identities are necessary to achieve one`s mission or vision.
Having numerous masks permit people to achieve acceptance insocieties. Therefore, when I experience a different situation, themask helps me to perceive how I change. Otherwise, sticking to onemask will render people miserable. It is imperative to note thatpeople behave differently in diverse circumstances, for example, theway I behave in the workplace usually differs with the way I act athome. The home attire is different from the work attire, and people’sidentities are construed as such. I dress and behave differently indifferent situations because of the ability to wear a mask. I havealso noted that it is easier for grown-ups to act differently in eachsituation unlike children (pushed to accept singular identity) whobehave in the same manner no matter the situation. Physical traits oroutward appearance affect individuals and their masks thus, peopletry to appear to belong through their clothing.
Gergen believes that multiple identities enhance self-worth andconfidence, but people should be positively flexible since the masksthey wear become their reality. People endeavor to be accepted bythose they see as belonging to their group hence, their inclinationsto style. People change their appearance to have a second chance orfeel accepted in a certain society, which shows that multipleidentities allow people reach their potential and feel contented withtheir lives (Ryan and Deci 227). A distinct identity is worthwhile inthe short-run, but when it is fixed it inhibits people’s potentialand frustrates them.
Although Gergen “doubt that people normally develop a coherentsense of identity” he agrees that to an extent, people maycultivate a sense of identity (173). The counterargument provides asignificant check on his support for multiple identities. Thestudents’ self-evaluations that support his hypothesis only showsthat it is easy to alter the masks of identity, but does not provideany evidence of the causal sentiments. However, I also agree that “acoherence sense of identity” is significant sometimes, as peopleare usually concerned with inclinations that unsettle their chosenmodes of living. Nonetheless, the lessons learned from differentpeople or situations are unpredictable and rarely connected thus,the existence of masks help people to make effective choices.
Conclusively, Gergen suggests that masks allow people to realizetheir potentials and allow them to effectively succeed in differentsituations. From personal observation and experience, Gergen makes acredible assertion since cultivating a singular identity inhibits aperson’s ability. Moreover, a coherent identity is unwarranted intoday’s society, which has extensively evolved. Thus, it iscritical for people to have masks to successfully make decisions invaried and dynamic situations.
Gergen, Kenneth. “In Defense of Masks.” Write It: A ProcessApproach To College Essays With Readings, Edited by. LindaStrahan, Kathleen Moore, and Michael Heumann. Kendall Hunt PublishingCompany, 2014. Pp. 172-174. Print.
Polhemus, Ted. “Appearance Equals Identity.” Tedpolhemus,2014, http://www.tedpolhemus.com/main_concept2%20467.html. Accessed17 October 2016.
Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. "Multiple identitieswithin a single self." Handbook of self andidentity (2012): 225-256.