the provisional nature of the self

“A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything that we saw in the same aspect as the things of Earth. The only true voyage of discovery, the only real rejuvenating experience, would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is” (Proust, 1933).

My perception of the reality of I is both self-driven and socially constructed through contextualized life experience. Being at least partially socially constructed, my perception of I cannot ascertain aspects of self that are hidden from me – hidden both in the perceptions of others and in the void of the unknown that is hidden both to myself and to others.

The Johari Window

Being inherently subjective, self-reflections cannot serve to illuminate this gap: they are ‘clothed’ in the same senses that drove my initial perceptions.

Further frustrating this search for who I really am is the temporal nature of the I, which constitutes a dynamism and complexity in continual flux. So being, the finish line in the pursuit of our ‘true’ selves is perpetually out-of-reach, a thought that can lead one to see the endeavour as fruitless. I would argue though, that it is the search itself that provides the reasoning for continuance.

In conducting the search for my ‘true’ self I must seek to gain some insight into the universes of those in which my socially constructed self coalesces. Partially seeing myself through others eyes helps to correct for the subjectivity bias’ of my own perceptions.

Accessing bits and pieces of the ‘Blind Self’ sheds light on the perceptive universes of the other, and brings in to sharper focus the reality of the ‘open self’. Through this parallaxic research comes greater understanding of who I provisionally was, at some point in time and within a defined context. It also brings greater understanding of the other present at that time.

As a teacher, greater awareness of self leads to a more informed decision making process as the perpetual search consistently raises up, questions, and challenges the values, beliefs, and experiential understandings that guide my thinking.

As an EFL teacher, this greater awareness serves to come some way in alleviating potential misperceptions and misunderstandings of the resident culture and society that partially define the students I teach. In undergoing the struggle to find my own ‘true’ self I consequently discover aspects of the universes of others, which helps define the questions a teacher poses in order to make better decisions.

Considering the provisional and complex nature of a single individuals understanding of self, a teacher may be best advised to “focus on wholes, relationships, open systems, and environments…seeking out patterns and phenomena that emerge from the multi-dimensional and dynamic interactions of the classroom” (Cochran Smith 2014).

Through the prism of complexity theories, a teacher can begin to take stock of the complex whole of the classroom, which is more than the sum of its constituent parts. Reflecting on the patterns and phenomena that become evident through the use of complexity theories helps guide a teacher’s decision-making; creating a more defined path to greater learning opportunities for one’s students.

Effective teaching, I posit, is best achieved through the relentless pursuit of the answer to the question, who am I? Armed with a perpetually updated sense of who I am allows a teacher ‘see’ with greater effect, helping to illuminate the patterns and phenomena of the complex system of the classroom – the key source data on which we rely.


Cochran-Smith, M., Ell, F., Grudnoff, L., Ludlow, L., Haigh, M., & Hill, M. (2014). When complexity theory meets critical realism: a platform for research on initial teacher education. Teacher Education Quarterly, 41(1), 105.

Pippin, R. (2005). The persistence of subjectivity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Proust, M. (1993). The Guermantes way. New York: Modern Library.