Are you an expert? An entrepreneur? An artist? A spiritual person? A parent? A consumer? An activist?
A… role? Yeah, me too.
I’ve noticed that, when I’m asked to help people with anything computer-related, the “customer service tone” creeps into my voice. As a possessor of knowledge, I posture up as the deliverer of knowledge who gives out sage wisdom on things computer-related. That deliverer is the same person who appreciates the humor of those “no, I will not fix your computer” t-shirts and bumper stickers. He’s a smart guy, look at all that techie stuff he does. Database builds and API integrations, what what?
Role-Playing: Actors on a Stage
I am a father to my son and a husband to my wife. I am a consultant and a web developer for my clients and a web director for my colleagues. I am a blogger for my readers here and friends in social media. I am a customer for stores, I am a demographic to the government, I am a patient to doctors. And in each of these roles, I have expected behaviors- expected relationship operating procedures that define what is appropriate and what is not. Those expectations are filters on our authentic selves; we sublimate our real impulses to fulfill expectations. So, the person you work with every day is probably somebody completely different once they leave the office. The person who asks for your order in the restaurant probably doesn’t go about being ingratiating and humoring trivial demands in his real life. Common sense, right?
To do whatever is required of you in any situation without it becoming a role that you identify with is an essential lesson in the art of living that each one of us is here to learn.
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
In all that role-playing, we can easily start believing that we are those roles. Our egos are the bundle of thoughts that are grouped around any concept of “I”, so the person who is all about activism comes to believe that they are at their most basic level an activist. A person on a spiritual quest comes to believe that they are at their most basic level a spiritual person. People in management start to believe they are at core managers, people in sales think they’re salesmen, and on and on.
Other people believe it too. The car salesman doesn’t talk to you, he talks to you as you fit into his abstract idea of a customer. You’re just a qualifying income level, a set of objections to overcome, and a possible paycheck. But he’s not alone – you see him the same way. You talk to him as he fits into your abstract idea of a car salesman. He’s just a negotiating obstacle to a good price, a set of sales tactics that will try to distract you into overpaying, and the hill to climb to get the new car that you need.
Most of the time most people are wandering about interacting with their own mental images of other people. Stereotypical, abstract images that are draped like costumes over everything other people say and do, so that even when someone doesn’t play their role as expected they are evaluated only in terms of that role. Judgment of an entire consciousness because of the fleeting role and circumstance we imagined they wore at the time we became aware of them.
That’s why we can spend all day with friends and family, but still feel lonely. A lot of times, a group of people are just individuals in proximity interacting with their own preconceived notions of others in the pre-approved manner of whatever role they’re playing. You and I can be a foot away from each other and have a long conversation without ever seeing or hearing each other.
When we let go of our definitions of ourselves, our labels for ourselves, we’re also letting go of the entire set of expected behaviors that comes with the labels. If you call me and my awareness is not sleeping, if my authentic self answers the phone rather than the consultant role and framework I’ve built into my ego, then I’m not going to give you the “customer service tone”. If I’m awake, I’m also not amused at a bumper sticker generally rejecting anyone who needs computer help… because I’ve needed computer help myself before, I’m not some computer genius superior life-form. It’s just my ego that thrives on the imagined superiority in the bumper sticker. It’s just my ego that thrives on the respect that I get as an outside consultant. Both being bound up in temporal things that come and go in a moment, that arise and subside on irrelevant circumstances, they don’t sustain my ego for long. And thus, they do not serve me just as my ego does not serve me.
When we aren’t role-playing, we sometimes wake other people up. It’s contagious in the sense that if we are peaceful in a crowded place full of rushing people, some people will notice their own pointless rush. Then, without the mental projects and facile handles, we can actually talk about something. We can really connect, have an experience of life in the middle of rush hour. That’s worthwhile, and just the start.
More than that, when we perform those tasks that need to be performed without losing our awareness into some fictional ego construct of our roles – we lose our attachment. We aren’t heavily burdened by the concerns or the worries of someone dependent on the approval of others. We are free from the stress of constantly filtering ourselves, of constantly striving to be the best whatever we can be. We are free to just be… to be happy.
Remember that question you’ve asked yourself so many times, “who am I?” You are just you – your awareness. And that’s amazing. You don’t need to put your amazing consciousness in a box to be “enough” – all those boxes just hide the light.
Father, Blogger on Happiness, and Senior Web Developer
Today, I deleted my Twitter description as “father, blogger on happiness, and senior web developer” with the accompanying links to my various profiles. I did that because I clearly haven’t yet completely let go of my identification with the roles I play. I did that because, in my witnessing of my ego, I found that I needed to lose some of my labels for myself.
Removing my Twitter description was perhaps that’s not a good thing in terms of business, right? If people can’t immediately see how you can be of use to them, won’t that lower your “rate of engagement”? Perhaps so, but that’s just you and I in our made-up roles as business guys talking. Ultimately, what we do is so much more important than our labels, even in business.
When I last revised that description, I put my role “Father” at the start of the list as a reminder to myself and a declaration to the world that I was foremost a father, that all my other concerns were secondary. But what was the point of that? Being a good Dad comes down to the moment-to-moment existence, the actual living, not some abstract idea of what it means to be a father. Just like those other roles – just as they defined what I thought I was, they also defined what I thought I was not. I’m a web developer, right? I don’t design, I don’t write, I don’t create art. Such limitations! Am I not infinitely more than any of those handles?
The idea of God is a pale and malnourished reflection of that which it points to, and so it is with the spirit and all things within us. Aren’t I a human being, a consciousness, an awareness that transcends the words and labels we use to point at things and roles and expectations?
- A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose – book on Amazon by Eckhart Tolle I quoted above
- The Corner of Waiting Boulevard & Patience Street – programminglife.net
- The Limits of Self Improvement – programminglife.net
- 5 Aspects of Awareness & Why They Matter – programminglife.net
- What If You Lived All Lives? – programminglife.net