Self-development and the Other

In necessity of our social interactions, the Other often represents a challenge. Whether others like us, what do they think of us, how do they perceive us, whether they accept us, all could create great concerns and various issues we have about our Self. According to these relations we may change the way we behave, sometimes even what we think in order to fit in. We could also develop certain habits and ways of being within the society which we normally would not even consider, but we conform to these criteria so that ultimately we could achieve perhaps some other goals.

In this process, some of us may lose our own Self – that which could have provided us with the development of thoughts, ideas, actions which constitute an independent individual. So, how could we reconcile the two – our inevitable existence within crowded society and our need for self-development and growth? How could we persist in this battle and ultimately win it?

First of all, we should learn to distinguish what the Other is for us, what does it mean for us to be in relation to them. If we perceive the Other as the enemy, as someone to be afraid of because we do not know them, we lose the opportunity to learn in the start. On the other hand, if we approach the Other as someone who could teach us something, such promising prospect could lead us to two possibilities. Firstly, we may perceive the Other as someone who knows more than we do and who’s knowledge is unquestionable, true and absolute. If we see the Other as an authority, we may still learn something, but we could never develop further than they could show us and we may suffer at one place or at one level, not seeing the chance to go beyond them and beyond ourselves.

Questioning plays a crucial role in relations with our own Self and with the Other. According to some philosophers, like Plato or Foucault, self-development is both personal and social practice and we inevitably need the Other in the process of knowing the Self. Philosophical dialogue with the Other as a reference point serves us in this process as a means to self-understanding. Dialogue, surely, needs two people, two equal individuals who recognize each other and are able to understand each other. Once we receive a feedback for the Other, whether it’s an advice, a question or just their point of view, we are then able to engage in action, hopefully resulting in positive change and personal progress.

By nature we are zoon politikon, according to Aristotle. We live in communities and interact with others for many different reasons, both related to our inner and outer world. Since we interact in so many different ways and with so many different individuals, it is in our best interest to learn more about both worlds, in order to preserve our own Self. In such art of living, self-development with the help of the Other seems to be challenging and a hard process. However, if we dedicate ourselves to it and strive for such goals, even though the Self is ever-changing, we could get closer to at least some answers and resolutions which put us to test in the first place.