Mind Self and Society

Section 35  The Fusion of the "I" and the "me" in Social Activities

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In a situation where persons are all trying to save someone from drowning, there is a sense of common effort in which one is stimulated by the others to do the same thing they are doing. In those situations one has a sense of being identified with all because the reaction is essentially an identical reaction. In the case of team work, there is an identification of the individual with the group; but in that case one is doing something different from the others, even though what the others do determines what he is to do. If things move smoothly enough, there may be something of the same exaltation as in the other situation. There is still the sense of directed control. It is where the "I" and the "me" can in some sense fuse that there arises the peculiar sense of exaltation which belongs to the religious and patriotic attitudes in which the reaction which one calls out in others is the response which one is making himself. I now wish to discuss in more detail than previously the fusion of the "I" and the "me" in the attitudes of religion, patriotism, and team work.


In the conception of universal neighborliness, there is a certain group of attitudes of kindliness and helpfulness in which the response of one calls out in the other and in himself the same attitude. Hence the fusion of the "I" and the "me" which leads to intense emotional experiences. The wider the social process in which this is involved, the greater is the exaltation, the emotional response, which results. We sit down and play a game of bridge with friends or indulge in some other relaxation in the midst of our daily work. It is something that will last an hour or so, and then we shall take up the grind again. We are, however, involved in the whole life of society; its obligations are upon us; we have to assert ourselves in various situations; those factors are all lying back in the self. But under the situations to which I am now referring that which lies in the background is fused with what we are all doing. This, we feel, is the meaning of life-and one experiences an exalted religious attitude. We get into an attitude in which everyone is at one with each other in so far as all belong to the same community. As long as we can retain that attitude we have for the time being freed ourselves of that sense of control which hangs over us all because of the responsibilities we have to meet in difficult and trying social conditions. Such is the normal situation in our social activity, and we have its problems back in our minds; but in such a situation as this, the religious situation, all seem to be lifted into the attitude of accepting everyone as belonging to the same group. One's interest is the interest of all. There is complete identification of individuals. Within the individual there is a fusion of the "me" with the "I."

The impulse of the "I" in this case is neighborliness, kindliness. One gives bread to the hungry. It is that social tendency which we all have in us that calls out a certain type of response: one wants to give. When one has a limited bank account, one cannot give all he has to the poor. Yet under certain religious situations, in groups with a certain background, he can get the attitude of doing just that. Giving is stimulated by more giving. He may not have much to give, but he is ready to give himself

(275) completely. There is a fusion of the "I" and the "me." The " me" is not there to control the "I," but the situation has been so constructed that the very attitude aroused in the other stimulates one to do the same thing. The exaltation in the case of patriotism presents an analogous instance of this fusion.

From the emotional standpoint such situations are peculiarly precious. They involve, of course, the successful completion of the social process. I think that the religious attitude involves this relation of the social stimulus to the world at large, the carrying-over of the social attitude to the larger world. I think that that is the definite field within which the religious experience appears. Of course, where one has a clearly marked theology in which there are definite dealings with the deity, with whom one acts as concretely as with another person in the room, then the conduct which takes place is simply of a type which is comparable to the conduct with reference to another social group, and it may be one which is lacking in that peculiar mystical character which we generally ascribe to the religious attitude. It may be a calculating attitude in which a person makes a vow, and carries it out providing the deity gives him a particular favor. Now, that attitude would normally come under the general statement of religion, but in addition it is generally recognized that the attitude has to be one that carries this particular extension of the social attitude to the universe at large. I think it is that which we generally refer to as the religious experience, and that this is the situation out of which the mystical experience of religion arises. The social situation is spread over the entire world.

It may be only on certain days of the week and at certain hours of that day that we can get into that attitude of feeling at one with everybody and everything about us. The day goes around; we have to go into the market to compete with other people and to hold our heads above the water in a difficult economic situation. We cannot keep up the sense of exaltation, but even then we may still say that these demands of life are only a task which is put on us, a duty which we must perform

(276) in order to get at particular moments the religious attitude. When the experience is attained, however, it comes with this feeling of complete identification of the self with the other.

It is a different, and perhaps higher, attitude of identification which comes in the form of what I have referred to as "team work." Here one has the sort of satisfaction which comes from working with others in a certain situation. There is, of course, still a sense of control; after all, what one does is determined by what other persons are doing; one has to be keenly aware of the positions of all the others; he knows what the others are going to do. But he has to be constantly awake to the way in which other people are responding in order to do his part in the team work. That situation has its delight, but it is not a situation in which one simply throws himself, so to speak, into the stream where he can get a sense of abandonment. That experience belongs to the religious or patriotic situation. Team work carries, however, a content which the other does not carry. The religious situation is abstract as far as the content is concerned. How one is to help others is a very complicated undertaking. One who undertakes to be a universal help to others is apt to find himself a universal nuisance. There is no more distressing person to have about than one who is constantly seeking to assist everybody else. Fruitful assistance has to be intelligent assistance. But if one can get the situation of a well-organized group doing something as a unit, a sense of the self is attained which is the experience of team work, and this is certainly from an intellectual standpoint higher than mere abstract neighborliness. The sense of team work is found where all are working toward a common end and everyone has a sense of the common end interpenetrating the particular function which he is carrying on.

The frequent attitude of the person in social service who is trying to express a fundamental attitude of neighborliness[1] may be compared with the attitude of the engineer, the organizer, which illustrates in extreme form the attitude of team

(277) work. The engineer has the attitudes of all the other individuals in the group, and it is because he has that participation that he is able to direct. When the engineer comes out of the machine shop with the bare blue print, the machine does not yet exist; but he must know what the people are to do, how long it should take them, how to measure the processes involved, and how to eliminate waste. That sort of taking the attitudes of everyone else as fully and completely as possible, entering upon one's own action from the standpoint of such a complete taking of the rôle of the others, we may perhaps refer to as the "attitude of the engineer." It is a highly intelligent attitude; and if it can be formed with a profound interest in social team work, it belongs to the high social processes and to the significant experiences. Here the full concreteness of the "me" depends upon a man's capacity to take the attitude of everybody else in the process which he directs. Here is gained the concrete content not found in the bare emotional identification of one's self with everyone else in the group.

These are the different types of expressions of the "I" in their relationship to the "me" that I wanted to bring out in order to complete the statement of the relation of the "I" and the "me." The self under these circumstances is the action of the "I" in harmony with the taking of the rôle of others in the "me." The self is both the "I" and the "me"; the "me" setting the situation to which the "I" responds. Both the "I" and "me" are involved in the self, and here each supports the other.

I wish now to discuss the fusion of the "I" and the "me" in terms of another approach, namely, through a comparison of the physical object with the self as a social object.

The "me," I have said, presents the situation within which conduct takes place, and the "I" is the actual response to that situation. This twofold separation into situation and response is characteristic of any intelligent act even if it does not involve this social mechanism. There is a definite situation which presents a problem, and then the organism responds to that situation by an organization of the different reactions that are in-

(278) -volved. There has to be such an organization of activities in our ordinary movements among different articles in a room, or through a forest, or among automobiles. The stimuli present tend to call out a great variety of responses; but the actual response of the organism is an organization of these tendencies, not a single response which mediates all the others. One does not sit down in a chair., one does not take a book, open a window, or do a great variety of things to which in a certain sense the individual is invited when he enters a room. He does some specific thing; he perhaps goes and takes a sought paper out of a desk and does not do anything else. Yet the objects exist there in the room for him. The chair, the windows, tables, exist as such because of the uses to which he normally puts these objects. The value that the chair has in his perception is the value which belongs to his response; so he moves by a chair and past a table and away from a window. He builds up a landscape there, a scene of objects which make possible his actual movement to the drawer which contains the paper that he is after. This landscape is the means of reaching the goal he is pursuing; and the chair, the table, the window, all enter into it as objects. The physical object is, in a certain sense, what you do not respond to in a consummatory fashion. If, the moment you step into a room, you drop into a chair you hardly do more than direct your attention to the chair; you do not view it as a chair in the same sense as when you just recognize it as a chair and direct your movement toward a distant object. The chair that exists in the latter case is not one you are sitting down in; but it is a something that will receive you after you do drop into it, and that gives it the character of an object as such.

Such physical objects are utilized in building up the field in which the distant object is reached. The same result occurs from a temporal standpoint when one carries out a more distant act by means of some precedent act which must be first carried through. Such organization is going on all the time in intelligent conduct. We organize the field with reference to what we are going to do. There is now, if you like, a fusion of

(279) the getting of the paper out of the drawer and the room through which we move to accomplish that end, and it is this sort of fusion that I referred to previously, only in such instances as religious experiences it takes place in the field of social mediation, and the objects in the mechanism are social in their character and so represent a different level of experience. But the process is analogous: we are what we are in our relationship to other individuals through taking the attitude of the other individuals toward ourselves so that we stimulate ourselves by our own gesture, just as a chair is what it is in terms of its invitation to sit down; the chair is something in which we might sit down, a physical "me," if you like. In a social "me" the various attitudes of all the others are expressed in terms of our own gesture, which represents the part we are carrying out in the social cooperative activity. Now the thing we actually do, the words we speak, our expressions, our emotions, those are the "I"; but they are fused with the "me" in the same sense that all the activities involved in the articles of furniture of the room are fused with the path followed toward the drawer and the taking out of the actual paper. The two situations are identical in that sense.

The act itself which I have spoken of as the "I" in the social situation is a source of unity of the whole, while the "me" is the social situation in which this act can express itself. I think that we can look at such conduct from the general standpoint of intelligent conduct; only, as I say, conduct is taking place here in this social field in which a self arises in the social situation in the group, just as the room arises in the activity of an individual in getting to this particular object he is after. I think the same view can be applied to the appearance of the self that applies to the appearance of an object in a field that constitutes in some sense a problem; only the peculiar character of it lies in the fact that it is a social situation and that this social situation involves the appearance of the "me" and the "I" which are essentially social elements. I think it is consistent to recognize this parallelism between what we call the "physical object" over against the

(280) organism, and the social object over against the self. The "me" does definitely answer to all the different reactions which the objects about us tend to call out in us. All such objects call out responses in ourselves, and these responses are the meanings or the natures of the objects: the chair is something we sit down in, the window is something that we can open, that gives us light or air. Likewise the "me" is the response which the individual makes to the other individuals in so far as the individual takes the attitude of the other. It is fair to say that the individual takes the attitude of the chair. We are definitely in that sense taking the attitude of the objects about us; while normally this does not get into the attitude of communication in our dealing with inanimate objects, it does take that form when we say that the chair invites us to sit down, or the bed tempts us to lie down. Our attitude under those circumstances is, of course, a social attitude. We have already discussed the social attitude as it appears in the poetry of nature, in myths, rites, and rituals. There we take over the social attitude toward nature itself. In music there is perhaps always some sort of a social situation, in terms of the emotional response involved; and the exaltation of music would have, I suppose, reference to the completeness of the organization of the response that answers to those emotional attitudes. The idea of the fusion of the "I" and the "me" gives a very adequate basis for the explanation of this exaltation. I think behavioristic psychology provides just the opportunity for such development of aesthetic theory. The significance of the response in the aesthetic experience has already been stressed by critics of painting and architecture.

The relationship of the "me" to the "I" is the relationship of a situation to the organism. The situation that presents the problem is intelligible to the organism that responds to it, and fusion takes place in the act. One can approach it from the "I" if one knows definitely what he is going to do. Then one looks at the whole process simply as a set of means for reaching the known end. Or it can be approached from the point of view of the means and the problem appears then as a decision among a

(281) set of different ends. The attitude of one individual calls out this response, and the attitude of another individual calls out another response. There are varied tendencies, and the response of the "I" will be one which relates all of these together. Whether looked at from the viewpoint of a problem which has to be solved or from the position of an "I" which in a certain sense determines its field by its conduct, the fusion takes place in the act itself in which the means expresses the end.


  1. ["Philanthropy from the Point of View of Ethics," Intelligent Philanthropy, edited by Faris, Lane, and Dodd.]

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