In his chapter on “The Narrative Creation of Self,” Bruner asks whether there is an essential self within each person or whether that self is constantly in a state of flux, adapting to different situations to meet the needs of the circumstances that people encounter. He states that “surely, if ourselves were just there, we have no need to tell ourselves about them,” (Bruner, 63) hence, the need for storytelling would not legitimately exist. My reaction to this section of the book was complete agreement, because I know that in my own life I have had to transform constantly based on the circumstances in which I find myself. It is not that my identity is not fixed, it’s just that it is fixed during certain phases of my life, and as I enter different developmental phases my identity is transformed based on the needs of that stage of life.
It resembles the Ericksonian stages of development, in which I have to master certain tasks, developmentally, before I can move on to my next set of challenges. For example, when I was in elementary school, I had to develop the basic academic foundation of such subjects as writing, reading, mathematics, etc., in order to be able to go on to continue learning at a higher level. I can use that as a metaphor for all of the developmental changes that I have made and have needed to make throughout my adolescence and young adulthood. The child that I was in my earlier years has had to evolve into a more expansive and fully realized teen and young adult in order to be able to function competently and successfully in the world. In order to relate to others appropriately, the construct of my self has naturally had to make accommodations to the people in the situations that I have come across.
Bruner describes 12 different characteristics of the self: intentions and aspirations, sensitive to obstacles and responsive to success, alters aspirations in response to success or failure, engages in selective remembering, oriented to “significant others”, adopts beliefs and values without losing continuity, is continuous over time and circumstances, is sensitive to where and with whom it finds itself, formulates itself in words, is moody, and tries to maintain coherence (Bruner, 70.) This part of the book details the description of what I am trying to say about the need for an individual to develop traits that allow evolution of character that will accommodate others and allow oneself to be part of the larger society.
Viewing that list, I certainly have aspirations to do certain things and be a certain kind of person, and I always try to be sensitive to impediments that arise so that I can change my goals in response to whether or not I am succeeding or failing. I especially relate to the characteristic of being oriented to significant others, since it has always been extremely important to me to consider the input and advice of the people who are dear to me. In addition, I can identify with the characteristic of being continuous over time and circumstances since I feel that I am essentially the same person who responds similarly in a variety of situations. For example, I am extremely loyal, so that whenever a situation comes up in which I am called upon to support someone who is important to me, time and time again I have taken pains to defend and/or advocate for my friends and family and the circle of people that are also loyal to me.
Bruner describes the way that selfhood is a type of verbalized event that creates a constant and coherent whole out of a chaotic experience. This happens through language, but also by balancing the independence of the self that has a will of its own with being involved in the world that contains other people. It reminds me of the ego-id construction by Freud, in which the ego balances the drives between the id and the superego in order to arrive at a socially acceptable solution to the situations that people encounter. To me, this refers to the struggle that I and others have remaining true to ourselves while balancing out our autonomy with social needs to get along with others. There are many situations in which I find myself disagreeing with my peers, who may be expressing attitudes that I find offensive or intolerant, and I do not feel comfortable simply allowing them to vent these feelings without speaking up in opposition.
However, I know that the way that I approach these matters plays a tremendous role in whether the outcome will be constructive or destructive in my relationships with others. I can spew out my perspective in a way that is angry and likely to put the others on the defensive and create distance between us, or I can remain silent and tolerate the others’ close-mindedness’ but risk compromising my own values by not saying anything. A more productive option is likely to be one in which I find a way to express my disagreement in words or tone that do not sound judgmental, but rather objective and somewhat clinical so that we can agree to disagree about these matters. This is the way that I am learning to function in a world that consists of a tremendous range of attitudes, many of which are abhorrent to me: I must find a way to speak out so that I do not feel that I am compromising my own values but at the same time, does not alienate or antagonize the people with whom I am involved.
For the sake of my own success relating in the world at large, I must strike the balance between my own sense of integrity and my social needs to be connected to others, regardless of the differences in the way we perceive the world. Bruner describes this as a balancing act that is very delicate, and this has been my experience as well. People can be extremely fragile when they feel that they are being criticized or reprimanded, so it becomes absolutely vital to learn how to express myself in a way that is nonthreatening yet clear and principled.
Finally, I had a very positive reaction to Bruner’s notion that narratives in and of themselves are not enough but that they are useful when they lead to more in-depth understanding of the stories and situations that are being told. Without using the stories to go beyond their actual and literal wording and creating an opportunity for growth, there seems to be little purpose in narrative communication beyond its own literal meaning.