The Idea of You and Me #69 #cong18


We are social beings, who take a lot of cues and clues about who we are from our external environment. In many social situations much of what we say, feel and do is controlled by our unconscious thoughts. If we understand how we are affected by our thoughts, could we unlock different ways of thinking, feeling and acting?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. You are not who you think you are
  2. Your own imagination is often wrong
  3. Your choice of mirrors matters
  4. Once you understand the interplay between society and personal, you can begin to understand yourself.

About Jane Leonard:

Jane Leonard runs Useful, a training company, based in Cork. She works with a diverse client base but has a particular interest in help small business harness the power of digital media.

Jane is also a part time lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology. She is currently researching the experience of International students studying Entrepreneurship in Ireland.

Contacting Jane Leonard:

You can follow Jane on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her.

By Jane Leonard

According to American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley, how comfortable you feel in social situations is greatly influenced by how you believe other people perceive you.

Over 100 years ago, Cooley developed the concept of the Looking Glass Self to explain how your idea of who you are is not just a biological state but is the result of our interactions with others. He suggests that we do not always see ourselves as we are but as how we believe others see us. So, the people with whom we interact become mirrors that reflect an image of us that we then interpret. Not always correctly or accurately.

There are 3 parts to Cooley’s theory

  1. We imagine how others perceive us
  2. We imagine how others are judging us based on that (real or imagined) perception
  3. We interpret how that person feels about us, based on that perception.

When I introduce his theory to my students, they often struggle with the core concepts. The students are confident outgoing and had assumed they were fully responsible for the person development. Once we begin to explore the theory, they become more intrigued.

One of the most telling examples of the looking glass self is when a student raises her hand and asks a question in class.

In that moment of vulnerability, she notices the verbal feedback and nonverbal feedback from the room. If the reflection from the room is positive, she may feel her questions was a good question, that people see her as insightful to have asked that question. Such students often become more engaged in the class discussion and in the course work and ultimately do better.

Students who believe they have received a negative reflection where the lecturer or the students appear impatient or sigh deeply the student perceives their reaction and begins to view themselves as naïve or gauche for asking that question.

Cooley believes that even as adults we develop the idea of who we are through our interactions with our peers, our family and our friends. Not just our actual interactions but how we perceive their judgement of us in those interactions.

If you’re with a group of people and you make a joke, and everyone laughs, you might begin to see yourself as a bit of a comedian. You adopt the looking glass, the mirror image of yourself you believe is being reflected back to you by others. Vice versa, if you say something intelligent, and you believe that this image reflected back to you, you might begin to see yourself as intelligent.

So Cooley’s, theory is that, it is not what people think of us that is important; it is what we imagine they think of us

One by one, in isolation, different interactions won’t make you think you’re stupid or intelligent, but if these patterns get repeated again and again throughout your lifetime, you develop an image of yourself that is given to you from without, from interaction with others.

We use socially constructed meanings of success, failure, gender or hierarchy to help us decide who to interact with and how we should interact with them. We also use this subjective lens to interpret the meaning of a person’s words or actions, not always accurately. These conscious and unconscious thought can have a powerful influence on us. One remarkable or personal incident can change our self-concept forever.

Cong as a hall of mirrors

This unconference at Cong is a very particular Hall of Mirrors. We come together as  a mix of more seasoned peeps and newer, first timers at the event. Although we come here as individuals our experience of the event is shaped by the responses, we believe we receive from other.

Coming to Cong for this unconference changes people.

It is intimate and intimidating, seems not to care about formal hierarchy, welcomes people, unsettles people, nurtures people and ultimately challenges people.

I believe that the looking glass or mirror effect is more easily triggered at Cong where the ideas, thoughts, notions and debate can be free-flowing and organic. Being in such an environment can make people even more vulnerable as they share ideas or connect with other ideas in new ways.

So important to come to Cong, but not enough to come to Cong and live in the familiar bubble for two days. This is especially important for those of us who have come more than once. We need to reach out and hear new ideas. We need to understand that our reactions to other people are creating a perception which can help people to feel they belong, that they are interesting or that they can connect with us after the event.

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