Developed and Undeveloped Self

Countless hours many of us have spent developing ourselves in some way or another. When we go to school, we develop in maths, sciences, and arts; when we go to a fitness centre, we develop our health and fitness. Whether it is physical or mental, we all have attempted to develop in some manner.

But when we reach a certain stage of development, we become unaware of which areas we have yet to develop because we presume we are well-developed. Someone who spends 1,000 hours developing their financial abilities will likely presume themselves sufficiently developed; only because they have exerted 1,000 hours of effort into a domain of development. Likely surrounded by others who take interest in finance, the person who spent 1,000 hours will more often than not find themselves more developed than those they are surrounded by, with respect to financial abilities and knowledge.

As a result, the person who is surrounded by those less developed, in some specific domain that is of utmost relevance for the context, will almost certainly conflate effort in one domain as effort in general. In other words, they conflate effort in one area with development in general. That leads to a big mistake.

Namely, to develop without having a developed self. If we were to tell a billionaire investor who knows the ins-and-outs of the financial world, yet has never studied their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, that they indeed have an undeveloped self, a dismissive grin would likely surface on their face. A grin swiftly followed by tremendous amounts of cloudy, stormy down talk about how well versed they are in worldly matters.

In other words, those who are extremely well developed in some areas of life are, as a result of conflating their effort into one specific domain of life as being equal to effort in development of personhood more generally, blind to their own underdevelopment. They have drunk enough competency so as to be utterly blinded by the intoxicating effects of development.

That all becomes a problem because the most essential area of development is the self. The self cannot be developed by pursuing some external skill, at least not directly. Assuredly arts and work can help express some elements of a self, but that is not the same as directly reflecting on the self. Yes, a painter can harness some element of inner consciousness to produce an image, or a poet can reflect on an emotion to write a line, though neither of those is probing the thing-itself.

The act of painting most literally requires some attention to stroke, to colour, to composition; it even requires some attention to ensuring that the image resembles the emotion felt or thought pondered. But the act of painting is not the act of asking why that emotion is there, nor is it asking why we think one way rather than another. And that is much the same for other kinds of external development.

Probing the thing-itself is how one acquires a developed self, not doing something else. To consider why we feel sad when another person becomes hurt, to consider why we value money over love or love over money, to consider whether we want a life of glory or life of humility. These are reflections which lead to a more developed self, these are instances of probing the thing-itself. And only from thousands of hours spent in those reflections can one acquire a more developed self.

We all have these questions arise, we all face similar problems of good and evil, and many of us experience the same difficult emotions in life; but we do not all spend equal amounts of time dwelling on them, trying to answer them, and learn about them. Thus, we do not all have an equally developed or undeveloped self.

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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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