Give more time to your pri­vate self

Vancouver Sun - - YOU - LINDA BLAIR

So­cial and de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gists have long ar­gued that we need both a pri­vate and a pub­lic per­sona. We need a pub­lic self to al­low us to fit into so­ci­ety, and a pri­vate self to de­velop our own unique­ness.

Nowa­days, when we spend so much time on so­cial me­dia and al­low per­sonal data to be gath­ered and stored on­line, the dis­tinc­tion be­tween our pub­lic and pri­vate self is rapidly de­creas­ing. Could this be bad psy­cho­log­i­cally for our men­tal sta­bil­ity? Pre­lim­i­nary re­search look­ing at the psy­cho­log­i­cal health and pre­dom­i­nant char­ac­ter traits of mil­len­ni­als, the first gen­er­a­tion to grow up en­tirely in the dig­i­tal age, sug­gests no great con­cern.

Ni­cole Borges and col­leagues at North­east­ern Ohio Col­lege of Medicine com­pared the char­ac­ter traits of mil­len­ni­als at med­i­cal school with class­mates from the pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tion. They found mil­len­ni­als to be warmer and more out­go­ing, adap­tive, so­cially bold and direct, as well as more or­ga­nized and self­dis­ci­plined — but at the same time, less self-re­liant and more self-doubt­ing than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

Jean Twenge at San Diego State Univer­sity and the author of Gen­er­a­tion Me presents a sim­i­larly mixed but bal­anced pic­ture. She found mil­len­ni­als to be gen­er­ally tol­er­ant of oth­ers, open-minded and con­fi­dent, but at the same time po­lit­i­cally dis­en­gaged, of­ten anx­ious and dis­trust­ful of author­ity.

Other stud­ies of­fer sim­i­lar pro­files — and of course, no one can prove a causal re­la­tion­ship be­tween the char­ac­ter traits of mil­len­ni­als and the de­creas­ing dis­tinc­tion be­tween their pub­lic and pri­vate lives. Over­all, how­ever, there’s no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence to sug­gest we should worry.

Nonethe­less, there are rea­sons to be concerned about a to­tal merg­ing of pub­lic and pri­vate self. Stud­ies show that if we think we’re be­ing watched, we’re more likely to com­ply with the wishes of those around us, rather than stick to our own be­liefs and in­cli­na­tions. Thus the more we rely on our pub­lic self to make de­ci­sions and to guide our be­hav­iour, the less in­di­vid­u­al­is­ti­cally we think and behave. Al­though this makes for greater so­cial har­mony, it comes at a cost.

Julie Co­hen, pro­fes­sor of law at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, is elo­quent in her ar­ti­cle What Pri­vacy Is For, in the Har­vard Law Review. Pri­vacy, she ar­gues, is short­hand for breath­ing room, for time that al­lows us to de­velop our own unique iden­tity, one that’s not pan­der­ing to sur­veil­lance, judg­ment or so­cial val­ues. When we’re alone and free from the pres­sure to please oth­ers, we can also de­cide how we’d like to de­velop our pos­i­tive traits and change those that aren’t help­ing us re­al­ize our dreams.

And per­haps most im­por­tantly, time as your pri­vate self is time to play, ex­per­i­ment and dream with­out fear of cen­sure. Only in this way can truly new and orig­i­nal ideas emerge.

En­joy your busy pub­lic life, but re­mem­ber to set aside time to be alone, to re­flect, plan — and to dream.


Pri­vacy is short­hand for breath­ing room, Ge­orge­town Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Julie Co­hen writes in What Pri­vacy Is For.


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