From a Person to a Personality

The last couple of weeks in the office have been quite hectic as we were busy discussing with some vendors for procuring an expensive equipment costing 30 lacs of rupees. I must narrate this briefly because this has a bearing on the topic of the post. We shortlisted 3 reputed vendors for consideration – all well-known multinational companies. After initial discussions we zeroed in on two big competitors. Both of them made very impressive power point technical presentations. One of the presenters – a highly qualified guy – was very articulate and knowledgeable with  good presentation skills. However, we soon found out that he was misrepresenting facts with a deliberate attempt to mislead us into believing that the competitor’s product is inferior in many crucial respects. We had to literally quiz him to find out that he was bluffing to gain competitive advantage. But it took a lot of effort on our part to nail him with his lies. It goes without saying that the company he was representing lost the order. What bothered me after the event was that a guy who is so highly qualified, knowledgeable and articulate has exposed himself doing something so sinister and unethical! Obviously and unfortunately, there seems to be no connection between education and ethics.  This episode triggered my thought process for this post.

Well, we all start off as persons with a basic temperament and develop a variety of personalities as we grow. What is personality? Interestingly, the word personality stems from the Latin word ‘persona’ which referred to a theatrical mask work by stage performers to project different roles and to disguise their identities. Psychologists define personality as an individual’s characteristic thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make the person unique. How is it developed? By selective filtering of who we really are. Put differently, our basic nature (as a person) interacting with nurture is personality. Our true nature is our basic temperament which has a huge biological component – an individual’s genetic make-up. As we grow, we develop a certain character by interaction with our surroundings. To put it mathematically: Personality= True Nature as a person +Nurture . I must admit that this is an oversimplification but is good enough for our present discussion.

In the above equation, one cannot make any value judgment on one’s nature. Every individual is unique and that is what makes the world so wonderful. But character is completely dependent upon our Free will and the choices we make with regard to values. Character is essentially built by the value we assign to our values while pursuing our ambitions.  Nothing wrong with having ambitions. What matters is how we pursue them. Ambition has to be tempered  or guided by values. Viewed in this light, one can understand why our vendor tried to bluff his way to sell his equipment. His ambition to somehow make the sale made him compromise on his value system. I’m sure we all come across several such people in our lives. For instance, don’t the FMCG companies do this all the time on a mass scale with their high-pressure advertisements, which are often misleading?

Our Hindu Shastras clearly provide guidance in this regard. While discussing the purpose of life, it talks about 4 ‘purushardhas’ – Dharma,Ardha, Kaama, & Moksha (A loose translation of purushardha is purpose of human existence). If one leaves out the last one for the moment, the message from our scriptures is loud and clear. It says: Pursuit of Artha(wealth) and Kaama(desires/ambitions) is no problem at all as long as Dharma is not violated. And our Free Will gives us the guidance needed to follow Dharma.

Modern day Psychologists & even neuroscientists are often sceptical about the operation of  Free will.  Let me narrate a story to counter the argument against Free will. This is the story of a famous American psychologist William James who in his initial years thought that human beings are preprogrammed robots who simply acted out as dictated by impulses and brain chemicals influencing emotions. The more he thought on those lines the more he started feeling helpless and soon developed depression and suicidal tendencies. The turning point in his life came when he read an article about free will and felt convinced that was an important proposition for human survival and growth. So he declared that his very first act of free will would be to believe in free will. Thus he was able to get over his depression and his new life as a free agent began.

Published in: on February 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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