While chatting with my friend Jonathan earlier this week, the topic of subjectivity came up. Specifically people’s inner lives and how they see themselves engaging in the world. Jonathan described how he has envisioned himself as a professional basketball player.
In fact, Jonathan had been grooming himself to acquire such a hoped for career by playing for Norfolk, Nebraska’s public high school team. He was positively regarded and was a top scorer for the team. He had been given offers from the University of Nebraska and Iowa State University for full scholarships. His dreams came to a crashing halt when he was involved in a serious traffic accident. His rehabilitation took over a year and he never fully recovered his ability to play. Jonathan’s scholarship and team eligibilities eventually expired. He relegated himself to achieving his educational goals without any athletic scholarships.
In his mind, though, Jonathan pictures his inner protagonist/persona as a major basketball star who thrills fans with his amazing prowess and skills. In his outer life, his persona manifests as his strategies to solve problems and take part in life events. He approaches life as if it is a basketball game. This is an exceptional skill that I greatly admire and respect even though I am not at all athletically inclined.
Later, after Jonathan left my home for his drive back to his home in Lincoln, I pondered some of the aspects of my own inner story. Of course, like Jonathan and most people, I am the protagonist of my own tales. In my mind’s eye, I am an ambassador to visitors from different cultures–oftentimes visitors from other star systems. It is my task to explain various norms and traditions human beings have that probably seem completely irrational to outsiders. One might say that my protagonist is an armchair anthropologist.
Many times, whenever I read or hear about a major social catastrophe such as warfare, the picture in my mind is of an alien astronaut inquiring about the illogical human inclination towards our species’ acts of self-extinction. I don’t come up with particular solutions to the violence, but I do try to observe the events from the point of view of non-Earth-based civilized beings. I suppose this is one technique that enables objectivity.
This inclination is not limited to answering aliens’ questions about wars and social upheavals, they also apply to trivial matters as well. Why do people enjoy receiving birthday and holiday greeting cards? Why do we array flatware, plates, bowls, drinking vessels, and other tableware in particular configurations? Why are we so concerned about the name brands of vehicles people drive? Why do many people keep cats and dogs in their homes? How do I explain littering and pollution to someone from alpha centauri? My inner protagonist is often engaged in such conundrums.
Our inner protagonists are unique, invulnerable, and omnipotent. We spin imaginary scenarios in which we save the day or are somehow crucial to solving some major problem. We may have an adversary or rival who is the antagonist of our story. We are uniquely born to play a part in the struggle between good and evil. In our mind’s eyes, we are the good guys.
In many instances, people’s inner protagonists affect their life choices. They become who they fantasize their protagonists to be. In Jonathan’s case, he became a high school basketball star. In my case, I was employed as a media worker and journalist. Jonathan and I had our own parasocial relationships with the public. He had classmates, fans, and interactions with broadcast sports announcers. I had coworkers and a listening audience.
This means Jonathan and I had compromised a great amount of our personal privacy. Many people knew a great amount of information about our lives while we understood little or nothing about the people who knew us. Although the fans and audiences had conceptions about who they believed we were, they had zero information about the most private aspects of our lives. They only had rough ideas about who we were. Even as I write about one aspect of how I interface with you, I reserve the right to hold back vital details about my inner protagonist.
One of the aspects of my protagonist is that many of his observations, opinions, and conclusions end up as material on this blog.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes essayist, poet, and writer, Jenny Zhang. “As you get older, you realize you’re only the protagonist in your own story and a blip in someone else’s life.”