Food for Thought

We all have images of ourselves in our minds that we try to maintain. For instance, you probably would like to believe that you are an honest person. If, for some reason, someone gets the impression that you are dishonest, you would try to correct it.

On the first day of your new job, if you make a big mistake and get fired, your boss and coworkers may forever remember you as an incompetent person, even if it was just bad luck. For many days or months, you might be tortured by the image of them thinking of you that way.

Social media, for the most part, is a tool to control our self-image. Instagram, in particular, is filled with photos that depict how we want others to perceive us.

Where does this urge to control our image come from? Do people who succeed in controlling their images have a selective advantage in evolution? I doubt it.

Suppose you are a good writer but also happens to be beautiful. You only care about the image of being a great writer, but ironically, people don’t think your writing is so good. Your beauty, however, they find exceptional. Is there a selective advantage in persuading others to see you as a great writer? No. In terms of survival, you’d be better off being a fashion model than trying to be a novelist.

So then, why do we care about our images? What would happen if we stopped caring about our self-image? In terms of survival, I would imagine that we would become more successful. In fact, we might be loved and respected more.

Besides, I’ve noticed that correcting misunderstanding rarely works. You can correct facts at the conceptual level, but the “image” remains uncorrected.

Suppose you get nasty food poisoning from eating wild mushrooms. It was so bad that you swear you’d never eat them again. A year later, you discover that it wasn’t actually the mushrooms that caused it, but the factual correction may not correct the vivid image of the wild mushrooms in your vomit. Likewise, you may never be able to correct the images other people form of you.

It’s a puzzle to me why we are so preoccupied with controlling our images. It’s a lot of work and stress only to win on a technicality.