Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Performance of Personality

A few weeks ago we explored the idea that your personality is not you, but what you create. Unfortunately most of us don’t learn to make the distinction between our ‘self’ and our personality. We tend to identify with our personality and become dependent on it, even when it is not perceived to be positive by our self or by others.

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One place we can see the truth of this difference between the self and the persona, between the actor and the mask of personality, is on every theatre stage, every night. In this crucible of creativity each actor creates the character, the personality of the role they are playing. At the end of their ‘performance’ they cast aside the character and restore their original (prior to performance) personality. Occasionally some actors who are playing the same role on the same stage every day begin to blur the distinction between their personality and that of the character they are playing. Some of the personality traits and tendencies of the role rubs off and into their own personality. In extreme cases, where the actor becomes a little confused, they may go into some form of therapy in order to disentangle the traits and characteristics of each persona. Until, one day, they realise and remember that ‘personality’ is not what I am, it is what I create, but it is not me.

And then there are some actors who put on a one man or one woman show and, during the course of an evening, will play six different characters. They will tell you that the joy of playing so many roles is based in the challenge of ‘creating’ many personalities, made up of different combinations of traits and tendencies, intentions and thoughts, feelings and behaviours. As they enter this creative process they learn to shatter any self limiting beliefs they have learned to have about themselves. As they continuously perform this creative ensemble ‘on stage’ they often discover and develop more varied and profound ways to act and interact in their ‘off stage’ relationships. They will tell you that playing many different roles in a short period of time in such a disciplined way is an intense experience requiring tremendous flexibility, stamina and concentration. And they will affirm that the only way to learn to do this is by doing it.

But you don’t need to be on a theatre stage to realise and use your creative ability at the level of ‘personality’. You are already on the biggest stage of all, the stage of life. During each day you find yourself in many different ‘scenes’; the scene of the kitchen, the office, the meeting, the stadium, the church, the party, the crisis, the child throwing a tantrum, the employee throwing animosity at their colleagues and perhaps the next door neighbour throwing something over the fence! In each scene you get the opportunity to create and play a different role. When you awaken to life as an opportunity to ‘create’ and ‘play’ in this way, suddenly life itself becomes a playful and creative adventure. Unfortunately most of us learn to take it all far too seriously! Why, because we have a tendency to intensely identify with just one or two roles within the daily routines of our life, usually one at home, and one at work. In so doing we limit our unlimited creative capacity. We get bored with ourselves, with life, and sometimes feel stuck in a rut. Then we go to the cinema to live vicariously through the highly rehearsed and brilliantly portrayed personalities of fictional characters in a fabricated story.

Playing different roles each day does not make ‘you’ the player any less real or genuine as a human being. It’s just that you awaken to both your creative potential and the need to express that potential through different roles in different real life scenes. This goes right to the heart of ‘personal development’, sometimes confused with ‘personality development’. People spend huge sums on courses and seminars under the impression it will help them create a new and better permanent ‘personality’, like a new and updated programme for the computer. And it may ‘seem to’ do just that, but it won’t make much difference because it is likely they will have missed the point. They will not see that they are not their personality. Personal development is not about creating a new improved up to date persona for the self. It is about going beyond identifying with personality. Only then can the self develop the ability to bring the ‘appropriate’ capabilities and capacities, intentions and perceptions, thoughts and responses to the fore, according to the scene, situation or circumstance.

For example the businessman who arrives home in the evening and continues his bossy and business like approach with his wife and children will soon find himself as part of an unhappy family. In the ‘home scene’ his family wants a husband and a father and all the characteristics and capacities that make a good husband and a good father. Friends who are going through an emotionally difficult patch need a friend to play the role of counsellor and confidant more than a teacher or advisor. In the ‘friendship scene’ they need someone with the capacity to listen and empathise, not instruct or cajole. The child needs the parent to be a master of their own feelings not someone dependent on the child’s behaviour for their emotional state in their relationship with the child. In the classroom the student is not the teacher so the teacher needs the capacity and capabilities to gently influence the students who think they know better, while being humble enough to be aware that occasionally they might! And so on.

While the actual scenes in life will be the main signal for the role that is required at any given moment, there will be other scenes where it’s not so easy to discern, where switching roles i.e. bringing to the forefront a different mixture/combination of capabilities and capacities will be necessary. This is one of the factors that makes life such a rich and unique adventure. It throws up such scenes and it is in these scenes that we get to know our self, what is within our self, and how to emerge what is essentially an unlimited array of capabilities, traits, talents, qualities, abilities and sensitivities. These are the strands, which when woven together, define the ever shifting tapestry that is our personality, our persona, our mask (not in a negative way) at any given moment.

While personality is not what you are, neither is it a façade, though some may either consciously or subconsciously use it as such. Whole branches of psychiatry and psychology are dedicated to the understanding of personality disorders, of which there appears to be many, including hiding behind our personality. But who is it that is hiding? The ‘root’ cause of all such disorders, however they may be defined, is simply an inability to see that personality is not what we are but what we create. When there is a clear sense of ‘self’ prior to personality, then personality is simply a creative instrument we use to ‘be appropriately personal’ in our relationships with others. It is our way to ‘connect personally’ through action and interaction with one another in time and space. Each personal encounter has to be different every moment, every day, every time we meet, otherwise we would be robots. Attempting to create the ‘exact’ same personality in every scene and in every relationship would be to attempt to defeat the very purpose of life which is to be creative and co-creative. That would be a perfect recipe for much suppression and tension, not to mention boredom.

This is why one of the best metaphors for our life together here on planet earth is as a drama or grand play. Within the unfolding drama of life, within ‘the movie’ in which we are all involved, you have a part, and no one else can play your part. Within your part you can create and play as many roles as you like, and when you ‘remember’ how to consciously create your roles then life becomes creative and playful again. And within the roles that you play it will be as if you will generate many personalities as your capacities and capabilities grow, intertwine and find flexible expression according to the scenes you are called to play your part within. And there, at the centre, in the control room of consciousness, is you, the authentic self, the master creator, awake and aware, never losing your creative authority within the creative process that is LIFE!

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