I’ve always been fascinated by the tremendous effort that we put into constructing and defending what we take to be a flattering (or at least passable) image of ourselves. Previous posts (such as here and here) have alluded to this process. The process of self-construction begins when we are quite young, and it is interesting to observe children’s awkward and often amusing efforts to present themselves favorably.

A serviceable self requires the ability to give plausible accounts of one’s questionable actions. Here’s my 8-year-old grandson Calvin’s valiant effort to excuse his behavior, as reported a few months ago by his mother Jennifer:

Jennifer: “Calvin! Don’t punch Theo [his 4-year-old brother] in the stomach!”

Calvin: “Sorry, Theo, I was trying to hit you in the groin.”

Theo: “That’s OK, Calvin.”

A useful self should also be one that you can present as doing good and noble things. Here’s an attempt by Theo that occurred when I was visiting in July with my dog Zoe:

Theo: “I’m protecting Zoe.”

Me: “What are you protecting Zoe from?”

Theo: “The light saber.”

Me: “Who has the light saber?”

Theo: “Me.”

This exchange reminds me of a story told by philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins. A man came to see the parish priest, obviously distraught. “Father, you’ve got to help,” the man blurted out. “There’s a family down the street that’s about to be evicted. It’s the dead of winter, and they’re only a few days late with the rent, but the landlord is about to take out eviction papers.”

“All right,” replied the priest, “I’ll make some phone calls and see what I can do to help. How did you find out about the situation, by the way?”

“Oh,” the man said, “I’m the landlord.”

With Calvin and Theo this summer.