Most people have friends. Friends are individuals with whom we share our time, our dreams, and even our insecurities. Friends are indispensable sources of support in our times of need. They are the ones whose company we seek in times of joy. We cherish our friends in large part because we feel we can be ourselves with them. It is my contention that we not only share ourselves with our friends, but that our selves are structured by our friendships. Our friends contribute to making us who we are. Our friends affect us in indelible ways. We would not be the same without them. Personal identity is established relationally.
In order to have a self, Sartre asserts that the individual needs others. He contends that corporeal and linguistic interactions with others “are the necessary condition of all thought which I would attempt to form concerning myself”. In Sartre’s estimation, personal identity is not something that exists independent of others. Rather, it is something that emerges within a social context.
The reason that the consolidation of self requires the input of others is because the individual is incapable of developing an objective sense of herself without assistance. Ultimately, a self is an idea, a concept that is formulated reflexively. What it means to have a self is to possess a sense of oneself as an object, or thing. To have a self is to apprehend oneself as an entity with concrete characteristics, definitive aims and aversions. A sense of self is essential to the individual because it makes it possible for the individual to make informed choices. Imagine trying to make a decision about a career if one had no sense of self, no sense of personal aptitudes and interests, no sense of personal dislikes and incapacities. It would be impossible. A sense of self guides an individual in her decision-making. Though individuals need selves, they cannot develop them in isolation.
Sartre asserts that selves are created frcm the internalization of information that social relations provide. He maintains that our selves are continually influenced and altered by our relationships. According to Sartre, from the time we are small children, we look to others to learn not only about the world, but about ourselves. We search others’ eyes and analyze their comments in an effort to glean information about who we are. Sartre believes that our interactions with others are the living mirrors that keep us continually informed of our selves.
We cannot escape the fact that we are social beings. Though we might want to, we cannot get away from the fact that we need others in order to have selves. In Sartre’s estimation, individuals exist in a position of uncomfortable and inescapable dependency when it comes to the consolidation of self. We can develop a sense of self only in relation to others, but all too often the assessments they offer are shallow stereotypes or demeaning characterizations that fail to recognize our intrinsic capacity for growth and change.
In conclusion, both Sartre and Seinfeld reveal that others are essential to the development of self. Both Sartre and Seinfeld demonstrate that we discover our identities with others. They reveal that subjectivity is predicated on sociality. What Seinfeld does more effectively than Sartre is illustrate the positive role that friends play in the development of personal identity. The sitcom reveals that our friendships affect our selves more than do other sorts of relations. It illustrates that friendship facilitates self-discovery. Instead of fostering apprehension about friendship, Seinfeld evokes an appreciation of the security that this relation provides. Seinfeld shows how much we depend on our friends for our identity. It makes us appreciate how much we need our friends to be ourselves.