This is the first part in a four-part series on the self in society, focusing on expectation and communication as components of perception. Published December 2018 in Bilkent News.
In any community, human behavior has three components: the act committed, the medium of transmission, and the moment of perception. Delight will break out in the face, transmitted through sight of the expression to another person, who interprets it in context: the likeliest object of emotion will be connected to a likely source of reaction, a connection made with respect to social expectations of behavior. These interpretations are interwoven to bear the social self: the stream of action, transmission and perception creates the envelope of a person, which functionally becomes the person themselves in society. Their internal workings are irrelevant to how they are seen and so to who they are, which is ultimately how they are clothed. The cleanest social interaction is the most resolute, in which no fear or prejudice shadows conception. Devoid of expectations, the medium gets wider, capable of carrying a more essential I.
When describing a person, we use distinct adjectives that have certain connotations. “Cold,” which can refer to many states from rational detachment to injured recession, gains a value according to the setting in which it is used. This value depends more strongly on the medium of transmission, and the manner of perception, than it ever will on the source content, because adjective impressions are created in the receiver. They depend on the receiver’s language, their experiences, their expectations, the communal rules they intend to break or uphold. If we see a dry-eyed acquaintance at a funeral, our interpretation of this behavior may take many forms according to how we see them and ourselves – or, to be specific, the language-selves of society. If we also are not particularly demonstrative, we may expect them to share our feelings but to choose not to express them, and therefore create a sympathetic medium of gestures and expressions, or the one-sided language of combatant indifference. If we cry often we might resent their silence, angry perhaps with their distance or solitude, interpreting stoicism as a sign of disengagement and possibly generalizing it to our own relations, which will make the medium tense and vibrant – or, more likely, brittle and cold. In none of these interpretations is the act particularly significant. It is the position of the receiver – the spectator at a distance – that makes the medium void, prepared to carry only sense impressions that are not directly supplied by the person. We take these impressions and pass them through the razor of expectation, finding in our dissections evidence for personal judgments of possibility. Whatever has been affixed on us by experience and education we take as the likeliest option and respond accordingly, drawing again from what we, through experience and command, have evolved to think appropriate. This process is usually not performed with much awareness, so that we do not consider the desire or purpose for which our reaction will be correct, and so are left with a confusing fog of emotion that we might take as absolute truth. “I am angry about this act, and therefore I will turn away” is a common reaction that may or may not fit either context or intention, but is usually given with vehemence to compensate for its fragility. Such a reaction thins and eventually destroys the medium of communication, leaving both parties with one last impression of the other’s self that will fade with time, drying to expose the strong bones of emotions that supplant thought. Anger, resentment or fear. Disappointment and betrayal. If the turning away is a certain response to a real assessment of the other person’s danger – if they have demonstrated a quality that we through experience find likely to injure some diagnosed part of ourselves; if they take up space or time we find precious, when we have found that little as precious grows in return; if we feel only a personal craving for solitude, and are aware that this stems much more from ourselves than it could from the one we leave – then it may well be an appropriate reaction to what has been transmitted. This is because it rests on certain premises that have been divined from some experimental knowledge of the body’s needs, and recognizes the context dependence of our own behavior – since, after all, our perception translates to an act that begins the cycle anew. It reflects the fact that every shiver, look or whisper, every word, every sound is an element of and precursor to language; that we process selectively and exist insofar as we manifest ourselves, as we press outside of our bodies the weight of budding words. How I am seen is functionally who I am. How I see myself is what I become. It is so much expression and so little existence: how I can be known.