The New Johari Window #6: Awareness of Self and the Postmodern Condition
In a society that requires many temporary relationships, we are not certain either about our own authenticity or the authenticity of the other people with whom we relate for a short period of time. A very successful television series at the time this set of essay was first being prepared (called Lost) concerns a “tribe” of airline passengers who survive a plane crash and must live together and solve problems together on an isolated island. Unlike other typical “Robinson Crusoe”-type movies and novels, the dramatic moments in Lost often center on the survivors’ concerns about the true identities of their fellow passengers and about the discovery by these men and women of one another’s often hidden “secrets” about self. This television program might have been successful in part because it captured something important about contemporary society. We find out at the end [spoiler alert] that the entire story takes place in a state of limbo: the “survivors” were actually among those killed in the crash. Their time on the island is spent addressing major, unresolved issues in their lives. Perhaps we are all living in the state of limbo portrayed in Lost. Our authentic self is a wondering “lost soul”—it is minimalized, to use Lasch’s term. And we minimalize the self of other people with whom we relate—because we don’t know which part of them is “true” and “authentic” and which part is “false” and “inauthentic.”
This minimalization and inability to discern one’s authentic self and the authentic self of another person with whom we interact arises at least partially from the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of our postmodern relationships. We must change our way of interacting with other people, depending on the setting in which we find ourselves. We can’t survive in a postmodern world exhibiting the same pattern of interpersonal behavior in all settings. It is not only our ethics that have become situational and contextual, our behavior and perhaps even our sense of self have become situational and contextual. We have the opportunity (and the challenge) to become a different self in varying settings. As one of the Lost “survivors” indicated to another survivor, we (the survivors) don’t care what people have done or what role they have played in other settings. We only want to know what they are thinking and feeling right now and what they intend to do in this specific setting (though the survivors continue to be curious about one another’s background). Is this the ultimate definition of being a “lost soul”? Our behavior is determined increasingly by the context within which we are operating (external locus of control). This context is constantly shifting, leading us to diffuse, situational and often ambiguous patterns of interpersonal behavior. Furthermore, if we are situational and contextual, then so are the other people with whom we relate. Hence, we minimalize our authentic self (that which doesn’t change from moment to moment) and the authentic self of other people (what we can predict and rely-on with regard to their behavior, regardless of setting). We are truly “lost”.