We are living in a postmodern world in which to survive we must be many people in many settings. It’s not just that we are saturated with many images of self, as Kenneth Gergen suggests. We also act out many different roles and engage many different styles in a society that is: (1) heterogeneous (complex), (2) dynamic (turbulent) and (3) multi-tiered (complex and unpredictable). As in guiding a kayak down a white water stream, we are always (in our interpersonal relationships) shifting directions, rebalancing ourselves, and looking simultaneously at the challenges, barriers and opportunities that surround us and those that we anticipate “down stream” (in the immediate future). We are not just situational leaders. We are also situational followers, situational friends, situational parents, situational (casual) acquaintances—and even situational lovers (one night stands).
The Shifting Sense of Self
All of this means that we are likely to be seen in different ways by different people in different settings and even by the same people in different settings and at different times. This, in turn, means that the feedback we receive is likely to be contradictory or at least confusing on occasion. Given that we already have an opaque sense of what to anticipate in terms of how specific people see us, we are particularly attuned to certain types of feedback from these specific people and at certain times and places—but are truly blind to (and can not anticipate) feedback from other people, in other places and at other times.