We are social creatures and live in a shared world together. As William Shakespeare put it,
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women, merely players." As a result, our daily chores as mother, scientist, teacher, CEO, or husband are not simply parts of our lives, but roles we get to play.
Unlike Hollywood stars acting in films, we mostly don't have scripts to act out or the time to think ahead about how to play our parts in specific situations. We would be overwhelmed if we tried to anticipate everything heading our way, so we end up using our instincts and "winging it," which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.
The moment we wake up every morning, our roles come into play, whether by being a loving parent packing school lunches for children, a thoughtful wife finding a matching tie for a husband, or a responsible professor reviewing lecture notes on a commuter train.
We take on many roles during a lifetime, be they challenging, loving, daring or harsh. What we learn through playing these parts as children may either encourage or discourage us from continuing them as adults. Positive experiences often lead to lifetime ambitions while negative ones may result in lifelong phobias.
Over 2,500 years ago, Confucius, a Chinese philosopher and a man of wisdom, thought of teaching people how to perform their roles in a structured society. He saw it as a way to preserve social order, giving people the tools to act properly in relationships, such as those between commoner and ruler, child and parent, wife and husband. He set his prescriptive, virtuous rules in simple sayings so even illiterate people could memorize them. Nevertheless, Confucius's teachings did not anticipate social progress or how relationships could change over time.
As we often perform many roles within a day, it is not unusual that we have moments of role confusion: A woman who has just had a fight with her husband carries her emotion with her to work, or a defense attorney who is preparing arguments in a court case starts to argue with others over trivial things. Long-term role confusion can lead to disastrous relationships and social problems.
The more education we have, the more demanding our roles often become; the longer we live, the more new roles we tend to be given. As a result, we are constantly having to learn new parts to keep up with our ever-changing storyline.
If our world is indeed a stage, how are you performing? The beginning of a new year can be a perfect time to reflect on and reassess our many roles and performances so we can be better at them. After all, the quality of our performances determines the success of our lives at every stage.
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Reflections of the East Column
By Qin Sun Stubis