I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Dr Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King made this famous statement in a speech in Washington DC in 1963.
He had a dream that one day humans would not be judged by superficial measures such as the colour of their skin, but instead by the things that they can contribute to the world.
Fifty odd years later, while the civil rights movement continues to fight for human rights and equality, the rest of the world seems to have a different mission – to introduce ever more superficial layers of judgement into the world.
Dr King’s dream is still every bit as necessary as the day it was first expressed. Not only do we continue to judge people by the colour of their skin, but many who live in our modern, digital world demand to be judged by layers of superficiality, layers that are every bit as ridiculous as a basis for determining someone else’s worth as judgements based on skin colour.
Many people now choose to hide behind a bright, shiny, false skin. An official, created face with which they confront the world.
When we meet someone for the first time, the first question we get asked is often, “What do you do?” An enquiry that sets out to label people according to the work they do. These labels come pre-loaded with a weight of associated judgements about our social status and apparent worth, judgements that may contain little of the truth about us.
The real question that is being asked is, “Do I need to worry about you? Do you matter in my world?” Money and possessions have become the currency by which other people judge us, and by which they wish us to judge them. While we might accept that we are not our work or our possessions, we still seem to have bought into the materialistic culture of the “Western Dream”.
The false skins that we adopt today are much easier to see than in the past. We emblazon it across our public profiles on social media, projecting our chosen image, and demanding that our worth be measured by the number of followers and likes we accumulate. We hide behind walls of electronic clutter, wrapped in our own ephemeral set of emperor’s new clothes.
The responses we get to our electronic skin are used to mark our worth, rather than more concrete measures that would offer a better guide to the things we can contribute to the world, such as the content of our character,
This is not surprising, we inhabit a world where many believe the Kardashians provide valid role models, and becoming Woman of the Year depends more on exposing your transgender journey on mainstream media than on living a life of active contribution to the world. The modern cult of media celebrity involves being famous for being famous, and is all smoke and mirrors.
It encourages us to clothe ourselves in a fake, multimedia skin, hiding our genuine selves from view. After all, when we can control the image we project, it doesn’t matter if we are not tall enough, thin enough or blond enough to matter.
We have wrapped ourselves in stone cladding for the soul – and this social camouflage is every bit as incongruous and unyielding.
There is a social imperative that underscores all human relationships. We have been described as social animals, and for most of humanity’s existence on this planet belonging to a group has given us a much better chance of survival. If we are not liked it is possible that we will be ejected from the group, and this places us in danger and at the mercy of predators that would regard us as an easy meal.
Ostracism can mean death.
We all hide behind our own view of ourselves, a view that is just as false as the persona we might broadcast on social media. The difference here is that much of this fake self is not adopted by choice, but is developed as we grow up in an interactive, social world. The feedback, both deliberate and accidental, that we receive from other humans is less apparent than the ping of a like in our notification stream, but is even more important.
We grow up and develop our personality – the way we habitually interact with our environment – in a world that is constantly giving messages about ourselves, telling us other people’s’ stories about how they wish we should or should not be.
We absorb this information as we go about our day-to-day lives, interacting with the important people in our lives, our parents and friends, and this helps to shape us as we move through childhood and become adults.
Much of the time this hides our true self, and like a stone clad terraced house, lost in a row of its red brick companions, this false self hides our true value and worth.
When we take time to reflect – to live an examined life – we can piece together these personal myths, and come to see the way that we are in the world can hold us back from showing our true selves. Once we start to come to this awareness we can start to live with greater freedom, developing the life that we wish to live. A life based on our active choices rather than on a passive, outdated, and unhelpful view of ourselves.