The Roles We Play

What makes us who we are? Is it the role we play? Or even the role we choose not to play? Is it the decisions we make, the people we know? Or a process of “discovering” one’s self through perceived values, strengths, positions in society, etc.?

It seems that the self may be a combination of these. You develop your sense of values, of culture, through your life and while you grow up. During this time is when you lay the foundations for who you will become. Now this stage of acculturation is strongly influenced by those around you, such as friends, family, and teachers, though it is mainly through the family that you learn your underlying values.

Now these values and set culture will help pave the way towards who you will be in society—what role or roles you will play.  And these roles, will help to form the basis for who you will be perceived as and possibly, who you will be “back stage.”

In everyone’s life, we play more than one role. We have a different face for every group of individuals, for every situation and every instance. These faces determine where we will stand within the “pack,” of what level in the group social hierarchy we will hold, and it may be different levels for different groups even. For example, some of the different

What face will you put on today?

roles I play include college student, sister, daughter, aunt, employee, friend, cousin, and grandchild. And within these many roles I have different social statuses. As a college student I am below the one teaching, but above high school students, as a sister I am above my younger brother and below my older brother, as a daughter I am below my mother but above my sister-in-law, as an aunt, well I am the only aunt so I am as high as one can climb on their own in that regard, as an employee I am below my boss and, as I am a new employee, I am below my other co-workers as well, as a friend I am higher than those who are not very well tied in with the group, but I believe that I am on par with the rest of my friends, at least I hope I am, as a cousin I am above the younger ones and below the elder, and as a grandchild, I humbly concede, that I am above all my other cousins in the eyes of one of my grandparents, almost non-existent in the eyes of another, a decent presence to another, and one of her “favorites” according to my last one.

All of these roles, all of these positions in these roles, somehow I do not get them mixed up; somehow I manage to play my part well enough. And we all do it, sure there are times when we mess up, overstep the boundaries, or just generally confuse the situation with an ill-timed or incorrect response. Erving Goffman has a wonderful take on the social interactions which garner and contain these roles, these faces. He describes the situation in the form of a play—a metaphor that I believe to be very fitting when talking about the game of life.


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