Exploring Criticism: Self-Communication

On my run today I realized that for a long time I had been somewhat duped by the hype around hard work. That is not to say that there is no benefit to working hard in pursuit of your passion. The problematic conception of hard work is that it is difficult to motivate yourself to do it in the first place. I was convinced that joining the military and going to college were important pursuits because they would teach me how to get myself to do the things I should do but don’t want to do. As I was running, an activity that I originally largely pursued for the same reason, I recognized this and began to take a whole different approach to the run. It wasn’t about some end goal of fitness or disciplining myself, so I began to enjoy it more. I explored the motion of my body as well as the world around me, taking interesting paths requiring more complicated footwork and stopping when I felt like it in order to enjoy a view or the sound of the creek I was running alongside. This playful attitude contributed to my quick and playful response to a woman asking me what I was running from: “I don’t know! Life, I guess.”

The benefits this attitude has contributed to my happiness and openness alone have been worth the change, but there are also other important reasons why this view is important. One of the biggest contributors to my taking this attitude seriously was modeling my mind in a new, more community-like way. I recognize that there is probably only one mind in my brain, but there are a variety of different inputs that can, I think, be usefully modeled as individual personalities. As social animals it makes sense that our minds would contain models of a variety of personalities. We must create working models of others in order to interact and cooperate with them. While the models are largely shaped by interaction with books, movies, music, and direct interaction with people, they don’t disappear when we are alone. To the contrary, one could think of thinking itself as the attempt of these various models to resolve their disagreements and explore new possibilities.

While the sub-personalities in our minds do begin as models of others, the word “model” implies something too inanimate to describe the resulting phenomenon. This is why I, for now, choose the somewhat awkward “sub-personalities.” They aren’t themselves a personality, but as part of a community of sub-personalities constitute one. However, just as the artist’s pallet shares colors with her painting, so do sub-personalities share qualities with the whole. They are not models in the usual sense, as they have desires and complex traits. Whether or not these sub-personalities exist as described, I’m interested in exploring the model of a community of sub-personalities and feel it may be useful to do so, even if it is just an analogy.

Why was it wrong for the Catholic Church to censor and imprison Galileo in his house? From our perspective, there are a variety of reasons, including that they were imprisoning him for saying something closer to the truth than Church doctrine. But I think that there are more fundamental reasons, ones that don’t rely on Galileo’s being right or wrong (in fact, he was wrong in the end). The reason it is wrong to censor speech is because it cuts knowledge creation off from sources of criticism and knowledge creation can’t happen without sources of criticism. Criticism in its various forms is what creates the problems that motivate the creation of new ideas that are intended to solve them. Let’s say that the church was actually more correct than Galileo. There are, of course, a variety of moral arguments that would bring one to the conclusion that it was wrong for the Church to do what it did. But there is also an argument for why it was bad *for the Church* to do what it did. Admittedly, key members would have to be convinced of some important facts of epistemology, but if they were, it seems the rational thing to do would have been to keep Galileo free. This is because the theory that Galileo created should be addressed and refuted in order to strengthen the doctrine of the church. The strength of a theory is based on its ability to survive where its rivals cannot. If the Church’s ideas are actually strong, it is necessary to use them to refute other ideas. In no other way could their strength possibly be shown.

How does this tie into the model of the mind as a community of sub-personalities? Often, there are specific sub-personalities that we stereotype as being consistently wrong, lazy, mean, mopey, worried, etc. People commonly believe that the correct response to this is to repress these sub-personalities in the same way that the Church suppressed Galileo. Like the Church, they worry that if they let their lazy sub-personality speak it will infect the rest of its community. To a certain degree I believe they are right in being worried, but only in the same way that the Church was right to be worried about Galileo. Additionally, it is likely that long repressed aspects of ourselves will not be very good members of their community in the same way that an overly-sheltered child will not be well developed in their ability to manage their emotions and engage with others. Continuing to shelter a child or repress parts of oneself is wrong. While it is possible to restrain and confine a sub-personality, this can’t be done away from the public eye. The rest of her community can see her in the stocks, and they will become either hardened and lose their compassion, malevolently rejoice, or feel empathetic and depressed by the sight. None of these possibilities are good for you, for the whole, nor for the actual community of people you are a part of.

While you don’t have to do everything your newly released prisoners tell you to do, you have to be able to explain to them why you won’t. In doing so they will develop into better citizens. They will begin to be able to offer more thoughtful and pertinent criticisms and contributions. For example, having released the lazy prisoner from his stocks, you might hear him tell you to stay in bed all day. Several other members of the community of your mind will likely protest this action, but you can’t let them force him back into the stocks. You have to help resolve the disagreement between all community members by coming up with new, creative solutions. Perhaps everyone will be on board with sleeping for another hour and then getting up for the day, or taking a nap later, or maybe there will be a good reason to get up right now that the lazy one will understand. It’s unlikely that this will go smoothly the first time around, but the process is worth starting sooner than later.

We are often convinced of our ideological framework that preaches the quelling of certain parts of ourselves just as the Catholic church was convinced of the dogma that convinced them to imprison Galileo. As a result, we cut ourselves off from some of the most important sources of criticism we have. While listening to their contributions is the all-important first step, the hard part is *communicating* with the various aspects of your personality. It is in this way that conceptualizing these aspects as agents, as sub-personalities, is helpful. If you were working on a team and someone said “I’m not sure we really have to do this task, why don’t we skip it and head home” it would (usually) be wrong to tell them to shut up and do the task anyway even if what they are saying is incorrect. So it is also (usually) wrong to tell the lazy part of you to shut up when it asks what the point of a task is. Instead of shutting down your sub-personalities unwanted suggestions, communicate in order to get on the same page. You’ll often find “the lazy one” has something important to contribute.

To return to the idea of hard work and what you should do vs. want to do, your ideal should always be to strive to make them identical. You could always be wrong about what you should do, and it is important to listen to the part of yourself that is telling you it doesn’t want to take part in some activity just as you should listen to the team member who doesn’t want to play a game anymore. It seems to me there are few greater goals than creating a world in which each person enjoys taking part. You can start by developing a mind in which each aspect “enjoys” taking part in the whole.

One thought on “Exploring Criticism: Self-Communication

  1. Sound psychology…! If you stumble across my old blog rightbrainrunner you might see we have kindred perspective…
    best wishes!!


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