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Person of Interest: The Personality

Person of Interest: The Personality

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Published by Michael Erlewine
The Self and the Personality are examined.
The Self and the Personality are examined.

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Jun 20, 2012
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07/13/2012

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PERSON OF INTEREST: PART 1 of 2By Michael ErlewineI am Western, not Asian. Years ago I studied Westernphilosophy and psychology, and not just once-over-lightly. For example, I liked the author Dostoevsky somuch that I read all 52 of his novels, and I then tookthe Russian language in school; that kind of study. Iread almost of all of the philosopher Hegel, and so on.But there was something in Western literature andphilosophy that I found to be confusing and this ledme into Eastern philosophy and psychology, fromwhich I have never returned. I want to tell yousomething about what that was. It has to do withmyself.Here in the West, the Ego or Self is a big deal, the bigtar baby, something to wrestle with, try to overcome,and not get stuck in. Good luck! On the one hand weare told from early on not to be self-centered orselfish, not to think of our self so much and to thinkonly of others. Then, on the other hand, we are told tolove ourselves, to find and discover our self, and
above all to always “be’ ourselves. Do you see the
ambiguity in these two approaches?If you think about it, these contradictory views prettymuch sum up the problems with Western philosophyover the centuries. About as close to truth as
Westerners come is the admonition to “know thy self.”
That makes sense and sense leads to life and living.This peculiarly Western dilemma (oxymoronic!), theexcessive concern for and/or against the Self is notsomething Asians are so worried about. And theBuddhist view, if I understand it right, is notunderstood correctly here in America. It seems I am
endlessly told by Westerners that Buddhists don’t
 
believe in a self and claim there is no “Self.” However,
this is not what the Buddhists say.As I understand it, the Buddhists say there is, hasbeen, and always will be what we call a Self; it is justthat it has no permanent existence, but is simply acollection of our current attachments and interests.Attachment (desire) is the glue that holds the self
together. And when I say ‘self’ here I am talking about
your self and my self, our personalities.I have blogged here many times that what makes upour self-interest at any given moment is notpermanent, but is ever-changing. Our self might beconcerned with that new bicycle as a kid, a newgirlfriend as a teen, and a new wife or baby as anadult, and so on.The whole point is that what we collect around us as aself (and personality) is real enough, but no part of ithas any permanent or lasting existence and, like theold game of Pick-Up-Sticks, since no item in the Selfis permanent, if you pick them all away, you are leftwith nothing lasting. In other words, pick yourpersonality and self apart, item by item, looking foreven one thing that is permanent, and you will come
up empty. However, it doesn’t really work like that,
even though every once in a while some major event(the death of a loved one, etc.) shatters and scattersour self, bringing us face to face with the actualimpermanence of the self.At those times when our self-image is shattered, weare naked for the time it takes for us to scramblearound and reassemble the shards of our shattered
self until we have gathered a ‘proper’ sense of self 
around us once again
 –
the cloak of personality. By allmeans observe this the next time your Humpty-
 
Dumpty self falls off the wall and shatters. That iswhat the Buddhists are referring to when theBuddhists point out that while the Self is always withus, what comprises it is empty of any lastingpermanence. That idea.Our personal self, our personality, is made up ofwhatever we are attached to (hate or like), pluswhatever personal choices we have made, and theresulting experience those choices have brought to
us. That being said, let’s have a look at how our 
personality (you know, the one that has no permanentexistence) is formed. It is interesting.Our personality, as the word suggests, reflectspersonal choices, and in fact is the sum-result of allthe personal choices we have made. We have pickedup that habit, but not this one. We cut our hair longrather than short. We have pierced our ears ratherthan not, and so on
 –
personal choices.All of these incremental choices add up to our totalpersonality, the kind of person we are. But ourpersonality also reflects more than just physicalattributes. We are also the result of our actions,everything we think and do. And it all adds up to how
we appear and come across, our ‘persona’.
 We are the sum result not just of how we look, butalso of what we think and have done. Everything we
are ‘signs’ us, gives us away, and displ
ays ourpersonality. Our body language and thoughts speakas well as the way we wear our hair.And our personality is not fixed in stone, but endlesslychanges as we do. This is why the Buddhists pointout that the personality or self has no permanentexistence. It changes with our every thought anddecision. Is that hard to understand?

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