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Gerald Young, Ph.D.
Gerald Young Ph.D.

The Self and the Other: Finding Balance

Seeking Identity in Re-Responsibilities

Jennie had had it with her parents. They wanted her to stay home, not go out with her friends because they were not like young people back home. She was 21 and wanted more freedom. She wanted her parents to trust her. Junior had too much to do at home, as his parents were so busy. He longed for the time he could do just what he wanted.

Shandra felt she was part of the lost generation. She took drugs, flirted with too many boys, and felt that she was getting nowhere in her life. Ron wanted more from life. He was raised in an affluent family and socialized with people from his family's social class. If his parents gave money to charity, there was always an underlying reason related to themselves, such as getting social approval. Ron wanted more than to look good in the eyes of others. He wanted to look good in his own eyes, and to aspire to a better moral life.

Jennie can learn to balance modern ways and the old ways of back home. Junior can find time for himself and for his parents. Shandra and Ron can give better direction to their lives - Shandra by focusing on her future and Ron by acting on histrue feelings.

Young people are sandwiched between their past lives as adolescents in which they probably had less demanding daily responsibilities and more free time, and their future lives as adults, which might seem forboding and not just challenging. They appreciate their increasing independence and movement toward their own lives, but they find it difficult to find their way. It is hard for them to feel that they are living their right path. There are so many choices to make, so they might feel lost.

For example, finding a balance between your work and studies, and between time spen with friends and time reserved for your partner. They are exposed to temptations, such as drinking alcohol, easy sex, and risk-taking behavior. In their search for fun, they might forget about family and culture, and fixate totally on the self. You might have become too self-indulgent and there might be little mental space for considering the others around you. Or, you might be in a position where you have to give too much to others, such as family, and have little time for yourself.

However, in our culture they need to find balance as individuals with a personal life and as people with responsibilities, such as in the family and at work. They need to harmonize the individualistic "Me" and the collective "We." Erikson described development in terms of stages that consist of oppositions or poles, such as identity establishment vs. difficulty in constructing identity in adolescence.

Young people join the parade to self-growth into the mature adult easier when they do not ignore the other. When self and other are in fine balance in the attitude, mind, and behavior of the person, it is easier to feel complete and to undertake the responsibilities of life as an adult with aplomb and success. When young people balance autonomy and interdependence, or the Me and the We, they make headway.

Erikson referred to the adult stage as involving generativity. He did not mean this solely in terms of generating a family. Rather, he meant this in terms of caring responsibly for the family, working responsibly to support it, and also giving of the self to society beyond what one gives to the family, within one's limits. The French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas also emphasized the importance of responsibility in the adult.

In my own work (in my 2011 research book; in my self-help book series), I conceptualized the sense of responsibility that one should have as an adult as "Re-responsibilities." For me, Erikson meant generativity to refer to adopting an attitude of responsibility for each major life task, and doing so continuously and well.

Therefore, your task as an adult can be defined as being responsible in everything that you do, and renewing the commitment to being responsible at each moment of your life. Being responsible demands your constant renewal because of the difficulties involved, the temptation to think it is too hard and to let it go, and the changing context of your life.

You will find life easier when you gladly live its obligations, even when they become difficult. In living life this way, you will find it easier to experience the greatest of joys. For example, as a young person starting your adult life, you will realize one day that the smile of a child to the parent can lights up the universe inside you. The thanks sent by a co-worker for helping out can make your day. Two hours spent at the community center helping the poor can enrich you forever.

Moreover, if you try to avoid responsibility, you lose so much.

  • First, by trying to avoid responsibility you lose its joys, such as your child smiling to you.
  • Second, genuine joy comes especially when you work for it in one way or another. The pleasure of accomplishment surpasses any pleasure obtained without trying to get it.
  • Third, accepting responsibility and applying yourself to it allows you to grow psychologically, which is a great joy.
  • Fourth, rededicating to all your responsibilities on a continual basis means that you have grown so much and it allows you to grow so much more.
  • Fifth, the inner calm, peace, and harmony acquired by living the path of Re-responsibilities leads to a balance in your self and in your identity that surpasses any other joy.
About the Author
Gerald Young, Ph.D.

Gerald Young, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at York University.