"Other-Directedness"

David Wells in No Place for Truth writes a very relevant bit concerning the effects of modernity on the idividual’s phyche. He borrows from David Riesman when describing the “other-directed” person.

On the whole, contemporary individualism is thoroughly emancipated, declining to draw values from the past (even the previous generation). But, paradoxically, it gives up this emancipation from the normative precedents for enslavement to a different sort of external authority — the desire to be like others in the larger culture. This entails more than just peer pressure: we are sensitive not only to the values of close friends and admired acquaintances but also the impersonal voice of fashion, a media consensus, the views of a celluloid idol, the message of a rock star. Having turned inward in a search for meaning, we turn outward in a search for direction (emphasis mine), scanning others for the social signals they emit regarding what is in and what is out, what is desirable and what is not. This produces a new kind of conformity…

…Typically the other-directed person thinks little about career, makes few long-term commitments, seems to have no inner core of character, little conscience, and seeks approval and even affection from a surrogate family, “an amorphous and shifting, though contemporary, jury of peers,” as Riesman put it. This person is oriented not to inner values but to other people. It is in the peer group that acceptance is found and outcasts are named.

…Where once people took pride in their accomplishments and in their character, other-directed individuals think only of how they stand with others. The freedom from all that formerly constrained, such as cultural and family expectations, now “contributes to his insecurity,” Lasch argues — an insecurity “which he can overcome only by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, or charisma.” Where the older type of individualist saw the world as a wilderness to be cleared and shaped in accordance with his or her will, the contemporary narcissist sees it as a mirror in which to preen him or herself; in the television era, the world is no longer hard… Once people worked to achieve tangible ends, to accomplish things. Now, such accomplishments are of far less significance than one’s “image.” Once people worked; now they manipulate. Once people sweated; now they seduce. Once people wished to be respected, to have their accomplishments recognized; now they wish to be envied, regardless of whether they are envied for anything they have actually accomplished.

3 thoughts on “"Other-Directedness"

  1. Babe, I have more to add to this. I posted it because it made me think of you and myself. We are so self focused sometimes that we become “other-focused.” We want praise and love from others to fill our needs. If we were more often God focused our spirit’s would be content with the joy he offers. Much love, me

  2. First of all, I have to say that I think I only understood five of the words in the first paragraph!! How do you read that stuff without it taking an hour to grasp a paragraph. You and I are definitely different levels when it comes to intelligence. Babe, I understand where you’re coming from and I know that is true. I know that’s why I’ve been struggling so much with our relationship. I feel so hurt and degected and know that I am in the wrong but I’m so afraid to give up that desire and that fulfillment of your attention, affection, and time. I do know that I’m not giving it up but I can’t have it as much as I want(which would be all the time) I know it’s not my personality but a bad habit and mindset that I have nurtured over the years. This is a poor illustration but I’ll use it for lack of nothing else(maybe you’ll think it’s silly but I’m trying to be cool and intelligent in my writing so here goes) It’s almost like an addiction. I know it’s selfish, it’s bad for you and it’s bad for me, but I don’t want to give up the desires and their fulfillment by you. But it can’t be. It hurts my spiritual walk and takes my consentration and desires away from Christ, it’s not loving to you at all because it will only exhaust and frustrate you because you can not humanly fulfill those desires and demands of mine all the time and complete the things that you need to do and to get done such as your own personal spiritual growth, intellectual growth, and ministry to others. I just have to get over my selfish desires. When they are not met I feel hurt and left to think that you don’t care and you never so that to me but I know that’s a lie. Once again I don’t give you the chance to be that passionate about me because I always take over. But then it also goes back to that other post (“Let’s”) Because I know you’re not wired like me and don’t have that clingy mantality and desire I’m afraid to let it go. Afraid to be left disappointed and lonely because I feel like I need so much interaction with those I love or I will not be fulfilled. Once again that goes back to selfishness and a sinful mindset. It’s hard to give up because I’ve felt sorry with it for so long and built up so much bitterness with it over the years when my friends did not fulfill me or my Dad, or whatever. It’s completely bogus but I loved to feel sorry and alone sometimes just like you liked to listen to depressing music when you were in high school. Sorry, now this I sounding more like a counseling session. I know I have no excuse and it’s sin. I’m not trying to make excuses for you. To put it in a nutshell-I know I’m wrong and it’s a sin but I’m afraid to let it go and not have those desires met although I know those desires are wrong and misplaced. Sometimes I make myself feel that giving that all up means less time with you, less communication and more separateness in our lives. But you have got to have your own time to grow and spend time with God. So there, I finally admitted that I’m wrong and I know why. It’s been hard to admit that because I wanted you to comfort me and feel sorry for me. That’s why I was holding off telling you because I wanted to make you feel bad for me. Sorry, it’s better to write it. I love you-please be patient with me. I hope this all made sense!

  3. Molly that makes sense. We’re both prone to idolatry, me with my learning, and you with me. I think though if you make the decision to “let it go” you will find that as your source of joy switches to God, your joy will be consistent and lasting. I think you will also find that our relationship will be more satisfying to you. It will be a river that flows from the spring of God’s goodness. I love you and am praying for you!

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