Jane Fonda 00.11 – 00.51 “For the first time in my life I owned who I was. That may seem strange because I was successful in most of my life on several levels …. I never owned who I was, I was always giving it away – looking over my shoulder at who various people were talking to that couldn’t possibly be me …. I turned 60 and realised there is a there there.”
Initially I struggle to understand this:-
Let me try to understand by looking at “ownership” in my life. As a child I had no memories, it was as if I was not present. I moved to Sale when I was 5, and the only memory I had before that was of a flood in Wallasey and a vague recollection of cousins who lived over the road. I grew up in Sale, and have normal memories (I assume) of school, football, a troublesome incident when cycling but few of family. Memories increased over the years but are scattered, there appears no continuity – no timeline. I suppose this bit is really about “what is memory?” Something makes the event stick – emotion? If it is emotion that would explain the way I have memories, because of where I had emotions. Emotion came more into my life when I went to university, there was a freeing-up, and a sense of complete loss to begin with. The structure of my life copied that of my peers at the hall of residence, I did what they did. But it is more like the body did what they did because that was what was expected. Jane uses the term “disease to please”, in my case it was “disease to fit in”. I did whatever they did. I remember meeting a girl at a dance, and that was unusual as I was always so drunk. I remember her saying that I had no friends, and that was clearly not true as I was always in a crowd. But what she said was true, to have a friend you have to have something for a friend to relate to. And there was nothing there I was what the peers fashioned – well there must have been something there, but on retrospection there seemed like there was nothing there.
I was expected to get a job. My hall-friends went into teaching to stay an extra year with a grant, I stayed the extra year on an M Sc programme. Whilst still an academic I decided that working in a university wasn’t for me (there wasn’t a choice anyway), and I got a job. In describing this I am using I but there was not a great deal of ownership in this – it was career conditioning – academia or work? Once in a job work-discipline overrode academic aptitude and soon led to problems where I eventually hit bottom 18 months later. From that moment on there was a development of self, a self that made decisions which were not based on conditioning and which were beyond reason – heart using reason. At this point I went into education where I understood teaching as meaning “leading out self”- Latin educare. At this point I was beginning to own my life, I made decisions based on who I was, what I wanted to be, and not the choices that conditioning offered any more.
But this is not the end of such development, this explains why initially it was so difficult to come to terms with how Jane described herself. Ownership is not the end. Jane has also got religion, and in this ownership she threw in about being – “I sometimes wonder if this is what God is, this filling-up with being”. It is not a throw-away. Being is not Jane, zen is not zandtao; we are one. Whilst the notion of self was needed after hitting bottom to overcome adversity and the expectation of social conditioning, there was actually no self there – only being. Once there is that ownership that I have always called my path you get used to it. It is there, it is strength but it has no attributes – no khandas. Eventually there is such confidence that there is no need to claim it as self – it is anatta, being.
I am still not sure what giving it away meant but what she means by ownership is clear and a good way of describing that stage of development.
Now I want to consider this ownership in terms of learning models – with a few additions. We are born with instincts to help us survive, these could be seen as needs. We need our mothers, we need food and drink to help us grow, and later these instincts develop as desires – including sex.
Running alongside these instincts there is development that occurs whilst we learn. These learning models are generally accepted as similar to Piaget; “cognitive development was a progressive reorganization of mental processes resulting from biological maturation and environmental experience …. Piaget proposed four stages of cognitive development the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational period” [wiki on Piaget].
Piaget proposed that the concrete operational stage begins at 7 and “important processes in the concrete operational stage are logic and the elimination of egocentrism” [wiki]. If we include instincts with the Piagetian model we could have this interpretation. With the elimination of egocentrism, effectively the elimination of the child-like perception of reality that they are the sole occupant of the universe, what we then have is the beginning of conditioning. I have no reason to believe this elimination is different for girls or boys so when Jane describes manhood as beginning at 5 this fits in with Piaget, but the emptiness she described of herself began in her teens. I would however suggest the conditioning began at the same time as in terms of this learning model there is no gender difference. But there is a difference here – that I missed before. It is natural to accept that there is a physical difference between men and women, and that there might well be behavioural differences associated with this. But are the instincts we are born with different?
Piaget was not investigating gender differences in his model, and he did not try to investigate later stages in life – adulthood. So a fuller descriptive model could be that we are born with instincts, and in the early years our instinctive egocentrism develops as in the sensorimotor stage and pre-operational stage. At this point conditioning kicks in, and this conditioning I am going to look at in two ways – reasoning and gender bias (not that this is a necessarily exhaustive explanation). Our education process – schooling – formally focuses on the development of reason, informally gender bias develops through social miseducation.
Whilst reason is developing through education at some point instinct kicks in and sexual awareness develops in girls and boys – an awareness that is self-evidently different physically. How does it differ mentally? Is the only mental difference conditioning? How does the physical impact on the mental? Where does instinct end and conditioning begin?
There are post-Piaget stages that need to be considered. These are stages that are beyond reason, and are unlikely to be recognised by academia because of this. I would like to call these adult stages but cannot because the conditioning is so strong that most adults do not move beyond the stages of reason and conditioning; so I call these stages of maturity. The first of these mature stages I would call ownership or self-awareness, and the second stage is unity which would be an awareness of being, non-self or anatta. A characterisation of part of the first stage would be that of going beyond reason recognising that all learning does not come from reason alone. The ownership component is that we can step back and see the conditioning around us and recognise that for what it is. Once we see what is conditioning and once we see that reason is not the only way to think, we start to own our lives and make decisions based on who we are – not who we are conditioned to be.
This self-ownership is needed because of adversity. Recognising this self as the true guide places us in conflict with conditioning, and as most of society accepts that conditioning there is conflict with society. Strength is needed to overcome this adversity. By owning who we are we say that we have that strength, and by accepting that ownership that strength we develop confidence that helps us deal with the adversity. And in the end we see that what we have confidence in is being. It is not my being, I don’t own this being. And this being has no attributes – it is non-self, unity.
That still leaves the hole in the middle, the relationship between instinct and conditioning that leads to gender bias. This has not led to any answers, just to a greater clarity of the question.