The Animated Self
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Big egos, small egos. Wild or unsettled personalities, calm and reflective ones. What do these terms mean or describe, in their essence?
I would encourage you to consider this important and ever-waiting question. In practice, the way we answer it can lead us to, or keep us from, constructively understanding, navigating, and in turn aiding the people, egos and personalities, and larger world around us. Similarly, our answer can promote or hinder mastery of our own inevitable ego and personality, and naturally animated self and life.
Given this topic’s broad significance or even decisiveness, and to help you reflect productively on the nature of human ego and personality, I would like to offer a two-part model of our natural ego, personality, and selfhood. After this, I will cap our discussion by providing a simple framework or tool, described in the graphic below, for progressively managing and perhaps assisting people, their natural egos, and their resulting personalities and behaviors – and once more, including our own.
The word ego has a number of uses or meanings, and here I want to use it in a particular, structural or building, and I hope at once instructive and immediately helpful way. For our discussion, with the word ego I mean to describe the propelling, motivating, driving, or animating side or dimensions of our human selves and nature. With this definition, I therefore intend to point to essential or healthy natural aspects of us all, and also ones that notably and demonstrably are seeking or seizing, commonly autonomic and reactive, largely present-minded or situated, and as such often relatively primitive, immoderate, or inconsiderate in their focus and effects.
This set of human and indeed animal qualities of course is in contrast, or is antithetically or structurally opposed, to the reflective, deliberative, regulative, or executive side of us and our overall selves or full personalities, which is the second component of my two-part model of the natural self. As we can observe in our daily experience, this side of our human nature is well-understood, especially as it is cultivated or otherwise strong, as broadly moderating, inhibiting or delaying, harmonizing or coordinating, often future-minded or anticipating, and thus comparatively sophisticated and considerate overall.
If this decidedly unromantic characterization of our egos or animating faculties, as narrower and less sophisticated than our executive or regulating dimensions, seems questionable or uncertain, consider a person – or a species or entire world – predominantly led by each force or set of qualities, and their likely quite different general effects or trajectories. Indeed, the steady movement from rule by animation, ego, impulsivity, or individualism to that of increasing rule by regulation, extension, sociality, or environmentalism aptly describes our historical legacy, and thus usefully might locate or asses our human and natural condition at any point in time.
Given this, while ego or animation may be essential to organic life in all its forms, its natural counterpart of aiming, regulating, and broadly harmonizing or universalizing executive capability can be seen as equally vital to life, and also as increasingly or more widely so in life’s more advanced forms. In this way, we might take our natural regulating or executive qualities not only as succeeding or ensuing from animation or ego, but also as typically aiding, optimizing, improving, and therefore more sophisticated qualities overall. With these ideas in mind, we wisely or helpfully might understand that in all conditions of life, but especially and perhaps proportionately in complex and progressing life, the naturally animated self is of necessity a regulated self as well.
Within this two-part characterization or model of the human and indeed natural self, I would add that both our egoistic and executive sides or dimensions can be taken as at once naturally evolved or innate, and also as continually shaped or nurtured by experience (with evolution perhaps further, but still unusually, understood as an empirical or experiential and nurturing or cultivative force overall). These longer-term and more immediate shaping or developmental forces in turn can be seen as together forming the common, recurring, and indeed often archetypical expressions or reiterating variations in the egos, executives, and resulting total selves or personalities that we readily can observe across natural life and human society.
On this last and often overlooked point, my model or depiction of our human egoistic and executive faculties, working at once in opposition, in concert, and constructively, leads to the idea and observation that the human ego and executive, and resulting animated and regulated self or personality in total – as with the egos and selves of any sentient animal, or animated species – are far from arbitrary or indiscriminate constructs, again even with their natural variability or multiplicity of expression. This idea, in particular, explains why various models, summaries, or inventories of our animating drives or egoistic needs, regulatory capabilities or inclinations, and resulting selves or personalities are broadly coherent, insightful, predictive, and useful.
Across this now wide body of work exploring human motivation, personality, cognition, and behavior, we and our natural egos are expected or predicted to pursue, recurringly and even doggedly, our natural range of drives, demands, needs, interests, or programming, in all ranging from the essential to the ethereal. At the same time, this process commonly is described, and readily can be observed, as equally being pragmatic, selective, or again regulated – that is, unfolding or proceeding in ways that are responsive to our particular conditions or circumstances, our past experiences and current expectations, and our naturally varying proclivities and preferences.
Tellingly or instructively, if we overlook or miss these essential facts or dynamics of naturally animated human life, indeed of all animal or animated life, and even of all life to some degree, we often create for ourselves a world that is substantially confused, arbitrary, indecipherable, unprincipled, unpredictable, and thus marginalizing or estranging to us. By contrast, when we sense or embrace this general set of ideas, by any set of terms, this commonly and immediately leads us to a rich, ongoing or perennial, structured and roughly predictable, willful but responsive, in turn manageable and influenceable, and overall empowering or enabling order in the people and activities around us – and again in ourselves, and our own egoism and executivism, as well.
More cautiously, it is important to add that this natural order or regularity in naturally egoistic and executive life, or of the naturally animated and regulated self, also is plainly a complex, intersecting, convoluting, and also approximating state, and thus always and naturally a partly uncertain and unpredictable state too. Owing to this natural complexity, and quite crucially, we naturally must, and continually do, employ various aiding and simplifying models or cognitive frameworks to help us make sense of and navigate our orderly but also animated, complex, and varying human and natural condition, as I have done here.
Building on this foundational model or description of the human and natural self, and again as outlined in the graphic above, this discussion provides sufficient context to offer and help you begin to experiment with a simplifying, perhaps deciphering, and likely quite useful framework for thinking about, influencing, and in turn guiding or optimizing the natural egos, executives, and resulting selves or personalities around us – and once more including the particular ego, executive, and personality within, or rather substantially forming, us personally or individually.
As you can see in the graphic, this framework for mapping and then perhaps influencing or altering the egoistic or animated self – one that again plainly extends to non-human selves – builds on, distills, and applies the above discussion. In all, the framework has two crucial dimensions, attributes, or variables. First, and more simply, is our typical degree of animation or activation, meaning our average level of energeticness or engagement in life, and thus conversely often our typical level of regulation or circumspection. This state, or set of states, again is viewed as promoted by our egoistic dimensions and in turn regulated by our executive ones. Importantly, our or any person’s degree of animation is well-understood as naturally and typically varying with circumstance, area or domain of activity, and other factors, but also naturally as having an average. In your immediate surroundings, you likely can identify various people who are aptly described as highly, moderately, or only modestly energetic, dynamic, or animated overall, but also again in ways that always are subject to degrees of consistency in this regard as well.
By contrast, and somewhat more subtly, the second dimension of the framework, is our breadth of animation, engagement, or occupation in life. This often richer and more nuanced ego, executive, and in turn personality attribute can be thought of as the number or span of areas where we or others typically are highly or recurringly activated, engaged, or animated – and thus perhaps, but only perhaps, highly or recurringly unregulated and less than circumspect. Here, we again might turn to one or more empirical inventories of our natural human drives, imperatives, or preoccupations, gauge our or another’s average activation or engagement in these areas, quickly and informally gain a sense of our or their overall breadth of activation or preoccupation, and with added care, even produce a rich psychographic of them or us. As before, you likely can identify many people you know who are well-described as widely, more selectively, or quite narrowly energized, engaged in life, or animated.
Since this two-part assessment process is fairly straightforward and intuitive, and as a result notably often can be completed quickly and usefully, if roughly, amid active or animated life and endeavor, I won’t spend more time on this topic. Instead, as highlighted in the italicized entries across the graphic, and in a theme that will be familiar to my regular readers, I instead would like to close our discussion by pointing out that positions near the middle of these two dimensions for mapping and understanding the animated self – or ones that are centered, moderated, or regulated between limiting extremes in each overarching personality or behavioral quality – may be more effective, useful, welcome, happy, and healthy over time. Importantly, here I would highlight that these five latter qualities of course are distinct from one another, only partly overlapping, and thus may occur at somewhat different points or areas on the framework’s graph or map of the animated self.
With this last proposal in mind, I would encourage you to begin to observe the many motivated or animated egos, regulated or moderated executives, resulting larger selves or personalities, and their often predictable behaviors around you, as they exist within you, and perhaps extending into the non-human organic world around us as well. In practice, you likely will find this framework of for understanding and ultimately guiding the naturally and variably animated self easy to use and apply, revealing and descriptive, and useful and predictive.
For a more advanced and in fact animated step, you then might consider and explore more optimal degrees of activation and breadth of occupation for yourself – states which again commonly may lie between extremes in activation and occupation – and perhaps eventually help others to understand and achieve new optimality in their natural or inevitable animation, and also regulation, amid modern life.
As always, I would welcome your thoughts and comments on this important, far-reaching, and I hope ultimately practicable set of ideas.
Health & best wishes,
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