Walk With Me (#14): What is the ‘Best Self’ of a White Person?
An advice column for folks who don’t like to be told what to do.
There’s a lot of stuff out there in popular culture today about how to be our best selves, but what does that really mean?
Ideally, the “best self” should hit at all four levels — spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental/intellectual. But also, what are the actions that must be taken to be that best self? I’m not just talking about getting there. I’m talking about being there and sustaining that Best Self over time.
This is a universal question; the answer will be different for each individual. And yet it takes on new meaning when thinking about systemic racism and civil unrest in the US today.
We are all becoming more aware that white supremacy runs deep in us as a nation, and specifically in white people, like some sort of invasive, parasitic disease. What is a white American’s best self actualized? How does a white American actualize their best self in an environment of exclusion and race privilege? How does a group of individuals, conditioned throughout that group’s history, to see themselves, without question, as “simply deserving” or “rightly entitled” go about not only the study of, but the actions necessary to achieve their best selves? How would that work?
I think in order to answer your question, we need to back up and look at the whole notion of “self-actualization”, because it is one of those terms that has been so often bandied about in popular culture that it has lost any connection, for most people, to its origins. I think those origins provide the foundation for a proper answer to your question.
Also, I’m just a big psychology nerd, but stick with me. I promise I’ll tie it all together by the end.
The concept of “self-actualization” was introduced by a German psychiatrist, Kurt Goldstein, and then was more widely developed and popularized by American humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow conceived of self-actualization as the pinnacle of individual psychological development. What he called the “hierarchy of needs”, comprising the mountain of the…