“The Second Voice”: My Footnote to Emerson’s “Self Reliance”

October 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” was a lesson in self empowerment and individuality.  I finished it with a few lingering thoughts in my head on how living a life of individuality can be complemented with the ability of self-analysis. Ultimately, “Self Reliance” is only the jump-board to the creation of a meaningful life. I’m hypothesizing that self analysis comes from being able to see ourselves as how someone else might.

Being a social maladroit (someone lacking social skills, might or might not be smart) can be one of the most uncomfortable experiences one can have in life. Of course that discomfort isn’t immediately noticeable when there just isn’t a need to be interacting with others or if the social interaction one has is with an immediate social group where members have probably known each other for a really long time. Many people might go through life without understanding what the hell is wrong, why one has so much difficulty getting along with others, until someone actually asks them “What the hell is wrong with you??”

I propose the need of…..(drumroll and fanfare)… “The Second Voice” .

What exactly is this “second voice”? It is the honest voice of another person whom you trust enough to listen to their “Hmmm… you know, this is how I see you.”

Through some observations of self and others, there are a few obstacles that make the second voice is elusive:

1. If I’ve built a reputation that prevents me from hearing “second voices”- becoming defensive over others opinions of me, thus discouraging them from doing so in the future.

2. If I come from a culture where straightforwardness and talk of others right-in-their face is discouraged, and my social circle is made up of people of the (1) kind. This makes it hard to find people who can be honest when I need them to.

3. With enough Opiates, I don’t feel the need to seek out “second voices”. They don’t serve me a purpose, since I can get by each day with “check facebook, twitter, email, youtube, surf Lifehacker, read gossip magazines”. My pain is dulled somewhat, but there’s a possibility that the truth of my existence and difficulties in reality might hit you someday, sometimes hard.

If one is able to cross the “ego barrier” and work at building a reputation of being open to feedback, one may have the opportunity of meeting someone or being some person that can give you that “second voice”. Often enough when he most need it.

How does one start? I haven’t been able to pinpoint a step-by-step process, but often one’s outlook on life is a big part of this.

Como la rie vida!

(How life laughs!)

The ability to laugh at oneself is often a terribly underrated skill. Instead of thinking of frustration and anger at an object, situation or person, one might be trained to look at the irony of it all fifteen minutes after fumes inside one’s brain has ceased. Instead of defending oneself against an unfavourable accusation or remark, he can try admitting to it, but also exaggerating it to ridiculous proportions. Good comedy comes from unexpected exaggerations.

Beyond simple humility, I suspect this is one of the VIP passes and high roads that gets people to places (and happiness). Situations that have the potential to make us look bad often have the flip-face of a ridiculously funny future barroom joke. Self depreciation, when honest, is an amazing skill and conversation starter, and relationship builder. Ask the Steve Martins and Eddie Murphys, they know the best humor comes from self depreciation! Charles “Charlie” Spencer Chaplin’s best works were works of self depreciation of his characters.

And the sad man is cock of all his jests

-George Herbert

The second voice then, will come when people realize one  has the ability to be self-critical when it is called for. One can self meta-analyze, and have a good laugh about it. Do it right, , then it eventually becomes a reflection of self-confidence, and sometimes suave even. It’s a positive spiral upwards where others’ second voices eventually lead one to be able to have a self -second voice, to be able to see oneself as others do.

Without the second voice, one is stuck in a limbo of being unable to get along with others, where one’s every action causes the distress of those around him.

Of course I’m not saying that others’ opinions of oneself is the ultimate truth. Much of it might not be. Having the information, and having the option of acting on that information however, is extremely helpful.

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