Role Fulfillment: How We Play Our Parts Socially

I’ve noticed that some bloggers I admire, Fred Wilson and Seth Godin among others, will write very short pieces that elegantly encapsulate a single thought. As I find myself busier and busier, I’ve decided that I’ll try my hand at doing something similar. I don’t want to short-change my readership, so I don’t want to rely on ultra-short form too often, but I figured I’d try it out at least once.

So today, we’ll talk a bit about role theory, a school of thought in psychology that considers the majority of people’s daily actions to be their fulfillment of socially defined roles (e.g. brother, consultant, blogger). Simply, a role is the “part” our society expects us to play.

Often, we try to mold ourselves to fit such roles better. For example, a pediatrician might have to act warm and bubbly, and decorate her office a certain way, in order to cater to her role. Alternatively, a financier might get bespoke suits from London, because he thinks they signal that he fits his role well.

The thing that fascinates me is separating our innate natures from “playing the part.” To some extent, we work on fitting into the various roles and titles we acquire through life. But I wonder how much of that is our core personality- our “nature,” so to speak- pushing us toward those roles.

For example, does someone have bouts of depression and drink excessively to fit the role of being an author, or did they become an author because they drink excessively and have bouts of depression? Perhaps some combination of the two; perhaps it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. This example, I think, is one that comes up if you think about the Lost Generation of authors, many of whom were depressed drunks. Unfortunately, I don’t know which way the causality flows, but it’s certainly something to ponder.

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