This is a question that I have come across quite a bit recently on literary forums, psychology forums and (possibly less intellectually) twitter. Walking through Ferens Art Gallery in Hull I came across a piece of art which reminded me of this idea. The piece was by FiND3, a local day centre for autistic young people and young people with learning disabilities. Every young person, no matter what ability level, took part by painting with their fingerprints a picture which represents their lives outside of their disability. The message in this piece and the pieces around it was “yes I am different, but I am more than my disability”. The pictures were vast and varied- from trains to polka dots and it was truly a brilliant way to represent the individuality of each person who had taken part. Sometimes it is way too easy to characterise people and put them in boxes. With disabled people this is often found to be a problem and to show you have a personality aside from your disability is something you have to be assertive about. These young people broke out of their neatly labelled boxes and said “There’s more to me” and the fact that such wide varieties of likes and dislikes can be seen through their work proves that they are far more than just labels of disability.
So what is personality, and what is a persona? Where does identity come into it? During my train journey home these questions began to bubble. Then this brain shattering question came up: ‘what am I?’. After some brief definitions courtesy of wikipedia:
- A persona (plural personae or personas), in the word’s everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor.
- Personality is the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral response patterns of an individual.
I began to build some ideas.
Personality is something we can’t help. It is the fact that we aren’t civil when woken in the morning, the way we may be more inclined to get angry/sad/happy than others and it is the way that (most importantly) we treat others. Our personality is deeply ingrained into us and, though it can be moulded through time and training, it cannot be changed. A persona is the entire person that you wish to portray. It is the face and the attitude that you put on and show the world everyday. Though this persona may be truthful of your personality (which may have occasional flaws) most often it is different or varies from your personality’s traits. Unlike personality which is constant, your persona varies from situation to situation and can be determined by surroundings. An example of this might be that someone who has a ‘shy’ trait in their personality, may give themselves a loud and outgoing persona to use amongst friends however they may refer back to a more discreet persona when with their family.
We often create, adapt and discard personas without even thinking about it. Personas also don’t tend to vary too vastly, which is handy because it allows us to function when two social situations combine, like dinner out with your friends and family. Though personas are a creation of the mind and not the DNA like personality is, I don’t believe it should be classed as an act that is ‘put on’ or fakery. It is these personas that allow humans to be so versatile and to function with others so well. If this was left up to personality alone we would probably find it very difficult to function with anyone who didn’t share exactly the same traits as ourselves. Personas have their flaws though, and it is proven that the anonymity of the internet can bring out the worst in people. This is caused when they gain a more powerful persona online without thinking, which raises real life issues like bullying and fraud.
But what am I? And how do I know if I am seeing personalities or personas in people around me? Well, I am a sixteen year old human being who has a personality of various traits with degrees of good and bad, and I probably have a handful of personas to subconsciously use in various situations. Do I need to know more? No. My personality and personas combine to form me. I am represented by the things I do and the people I make an impact on in the world. Whether it is a smile as I cross the street or a life long friendship I am making an impact, and so is everyone else. I am an output of my environment, personality, personas, circumstances, finances and a million other improbable factors that have near impossibly come together to form one me. This is identity. My disability doesn’t dictate who I am, nor do the personas or niggling tendencies in my brain’s anatomical structures. This is why you shouldn’t care about whether you see a persona or a personality in others also, because you will find out so much more about them through a healthy and growing friendship rather than a psychological analysis. Oh and if you want to make new friends, there is nothing that kills future conversations more than asking to do a psychological analysis of someone…
What personas do you have? Do you think you are a personality, a persona or a mix of the two?