Okay, so here’s the deal, most of us…me included….like our labels. No, I am not talking about Gucci, Pucci and Fiorucci–although those are some nice labels. Actually my labels of choice are more likely to be JCrew, Kate Spade, Diane Von Furtstenburg and Tory Burch. But those are not the labels I am talking about. I am talking about identity labels—-labels such as “mother’, “daughter”, “therapist”, “wife”, etc. We work hard to achieve those labels. We go to school for some of them. We go to counseling to maintain others. We pay $100,000 for a party that announces we are now a “Mrs.”. These labels define us and when we lose them we can feel like we have lost our purpose in life.
This last year I lost some labels and gained some new ones. Being someone’s wife give me some social cache and comfort. And as I was no one’s mother, being someone’s wife made me feel like I had at least achieved one developmental milestone that made me seem like I was on the adult-who-plays-by-the-rules track. And in losing the label of ‘wife’ I had some undeniable existential angst, ennui and meaningless. However, ultimately in losing the label I gained more freedom to be who I really am.
Jean Paul Sartre, the father of Existential philosophy and the only philosopher to ever admit being chased by a crustacean( a bad mescalin trip), and the other fab four of the existential philosopher club ( Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus and Heidegger) ask their readers to dump these labels(being-in-itself) faster than you might ditch a questionable Prada knock off. But why do they want you to ditch them? They think it’s bad faith. What’s “bad faith”? “Bad faith, according to Sartre, is “the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns their innate freedom to act authentically.”
Let me have Sartre explain bad faith in his own words: “Consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tight-rope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand.” Sartre is not singling out waiters, it’s just likely the example that came to mind as he spent so much time hanging at out Parisian cafes. Sartre is using them to attack the notion of over-identifying with a role( what Jung might call Persona identification) and how that over-identification with a role limits our freedom.
Satre expands his analysis to those who work at the Piggly Wiggly: “A grocer who dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer, ” Sartre continues. “Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer, just as the soldier at attention makes himself into a soldier-thing with a direct regard which does not see at all, which is no longer meant to see, since it is the rule and not the interest of the moment which determines the point he must fix his eyes on (the sight “fixed at ten paces”). There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition.”
Did you read the fantastic book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog? If not, you should. In it there is a character, Renée, who is the concierge of an upscale Parisian apartment. She works to conform to the expectations people have of a concierge. She is fat, cantankerous, and is seemingly addicted to TV. She hides the parts of her that do not conform to the cliche of concierge. Renée is secretly a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. Renée is a perfect example of Bad Faith.
When I started my blog I wanted a place to talk about things that I couldn’t talk about as a therapist. I had interests and passions that were not considered “depthful” or appropriate interests for one who was working on accessing the unconscious. My interest in shoes, clothing, skincare, and aesthetics were considered surface and not part of the expected interests of one who was a depth psychotherapist. La Belette Rouge gave me a place for me to break from the role of therapist and in having a place for that part of myself I began to value it more and was able to incorporate more of myself. I found that the more I wrote about these interests the more authentic I became and less and less felt the need to act out of an expectation of the role of therapist. I am a therapist who loves depth and discourse and philosophy and I also love skincare and shoes and leopard print and being girly. Sartre would like that about me, I think.
Sartre was so committed to this notion that one shouldn’t be identified by labels, and that to do so is to treat yourself as an object and not as a being, that he refused to accept the Nobel prize. He knew if that he accepted the prize that was accepting a label and to accept a label is to limit your freedom. That is putting your money where your mouth is. I think if I was JPS, I might have tried to write a book of philosophy that argued it isn’t bad faith to accept a Nobel prize.
So what labels are you over-identified with? Do you find that these labels impinge your freedom? Oh, and just to bring about of whimsy to this post and negate the entire premise of this thesis, what clothing label do you most identify with and why? For me, JCrew continues to be the brand that I most identify with. Why? I suppose they are about classics with a twist. That’s me. I like things that endure and yet aren’t stuffy. I’m Episcopalian ( definitely classic with a twist). I prefer classical literature to modern novels—-mostly. I like designs that promise to be in style in twenty years and that don’t take themselves too seriously. That said, I also buy clothes from unexpected places (Target, etc)—which I think means I am not so over-identifed with a label that I am committing sartorial Sartrian bad faith.