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Read Letter

Potential Selves

Dear Jack,

Have you ever heard of a sculptor named Sean Henry? I came across three of his works in London. They seemed ordinary at first glance, until I read his reasoning and the critics.

Sean Henry’s works dwell on the subject of man – “the potential selves, our identity and humanity”. You may want to look him up but the phrase “potential selves” got my attention. It’s deep. It is of course subject to varying interpretations but it suggests our outcomes are variables; that there’s not one potential self; that there is a plurality of possible outcomes to our lives. Think of the possibility of a caterpillar emerging into a bee, locust or butterfly, all potential outcomes incubating. Think of the potential selves of an Adolf Hitler, before he became Hitler. The notion of course leads us to subjects like predestination, moral relativism, self determination and freewill.

Then there’s the issue of nature versus nurture. If a young man’s mother is stingy and selfish for instance, he will have two potential selves in the least: He may imbibe his mother’s practical tutelage and become miserably stingy; or he may be repulsed and rebel against stinginess to become a generous soul. Potential selves.

In the same vein, the son of a prostitute may turn out a pimp, or a minister of the gospel. Our outcomes are not auto generated from the lives of our primogenitors. A child will not necessarily turn out as his father or mother. Life is more complex. Our backgrounds or not, at some point in life we bear responsibility for the outcomes of our lives. Our backgrounds and upbringing do not necessarily indicate what we must become, though they bear influence. We are not prisoners of personal history.

The doctrine of potential selves in effect says Hitler didn’t need to become Hitler. Even Judas! The prophecies concerning the betrayal of Jesus weren’t Judas specific. Could have been anyone. It’s called betrayal because it was unexpected, disappointing, even shocking. Only friends can betray. Strangers can’t. Personal greed led Judas to the Field of Blood. He was cooking books. Was corrupt. There’s no mention of Judas’ background in scriptures. We don’t know his mother, we don’t know his father. His background was irrelevant to his outcome the scriptures seem to say. Quit blaming your background. Take responsibility. Where are your choices leading you?

Psychology seeks to understand human behaviour through the pin hole of individual backgrounds. But even if we concede background and I’m not saying it’s irrelevant, the truth is our circumstances can either become our excuse or our motivation. That your father treated your mom badly is no reason to treat women badly. That’s perverse. Having witnessed the pain inflicted by your dad you could choose to become a sensitive and kind lover. That your last girlfriend ill treated you is no justification for passing sentence on all women. You can’t treat womanhood as a misdemeanour. Neither can you treat beauty as a felony.

If you have an irresponsible father, it’s your choice whether to turn out to be responsible or not. If you’re not ready to become a father don’t impregnate. And please don’t father beyond your means or economic capability. Breast milk is free, school fees aren’t cheap.

When we repudiate parental responsibility we create problems for society. When a father is missing a child goes looking for a father figure. It can be anyone, even a thief. A father is not the impregnator. A father is the nurturer. As much as you desire one night stands remember it can lead to paternity tests. The circumstance questions the outcome as well as characters of the partners.

The worst thing to do to a child is to make the provenance of his or her paternity questionable. The consequences have ripple effects that keep haunting histories. It’s a terrible thing to be denied by one’s father; or not to know one’s dad, or be uncared for. It creates a void in the soul. Future successes don’t fill that chasm. It’s a deep hole. The great scandal of society is unknown fathers, especially those who repudiate responsibility.

As I write this, I remember an ad I saw some years ago, about responsible fatherhood. The copy simply read: “See Dick run!” This year let the word “responsibility” be big in your life. Don’t be a delivery man. Take responsibility for your life, take responsibility for your acts, take responsibility for your ventures. Responsibility defineth the man.

I wish you a very wonderful and prosperous new year.

Your mentor, LA.

© Leke Alder 2014

Tags : Potential, Responsibility, Backgrounds

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