Imitating Others

Watching Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” I couldn’t help but feel that every now and again I seem to be recognizing someone else in some of his mannerisms and gestures. Then, in a flash it hit me, Robert De Niro! It got me thinking about this desire in us to want to imitate others.

Imitation can be tied to Survival

Imitation can be tied to Survival

Can this desire become so strong that it eventually moves us further and further away from our own expression and originality? I’m sure it can, but strangely enough it’s also essential to our growth and survival. Lev Vygotsky, a Cultural-historical psychologist said, “Through others we become ourselves.” I believe this. What I see in others certainly helps me discover more of myself.

Perhaps then we are all called to live with a question – what am I imitating and to what extent is this imitation limiting me or helping me in becoming more myself? It’s a tough question, but to ignore it presents us with the prospect of our lives ultimately becoming superficial and cheap imitations.

It may have sounded rather selfish, but there’s a lot of truth in the old Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way.”

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Discernment, Identity, inspiration, Relationships, Spirituality, Transformation, Wisdom Cartoons and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Imitating Others

  1. Dan Antion says:

    This is a great question. I often try to make subtle changes to the way I write, and sometimes I wonder “what’s driving this change?” I have a strong desire to be me and to write with my voice, but you can’t go through life without being influenced by others. Nice post.

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    • Don says:

      Sometimes Dan I wonder if those influences of others on us take on a different shape when they permeate us. They have a unique essence in those who impart them, but when they enter our inner world they are expressed differently through us. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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  2. Mary says:

    Interesting post Don. Perhaps we imitate from birth, doesn’t it start with our parents as we mimic and grow as little beings? Then as teens we have more impressions around us as our world of contact and introduction grows, and there seems personalities and self continues to be developed as does the imitation of those around us or what we see in media (whatever form, TV – magazines – internet, etc). As adults, well that’s where the many impressions we’ve been exposed to from birth meets our self image and persona – hopefully we are secure and confident enough to manage through the noise and be who we are.

    With respect to learning and mastering a skill it seems that we grow by watching, reading, and doing. The aspect of learning from others by their example or experience, for me is a great launch pad and then it’s up to me absorb, make it my own and develop / grow and discover from there.

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    • Don says:

      Love your comment Mary. As you say those first years are full of necessary influence and imitating. I warm to what you say about that phase becoming the launch pad of a more expansive and unique identity. It has to or we are forever defined by others. Your last sentence really does it for me. I think that’s the part of the journey many often don’t take.Thank you again.

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      • Val Boyko says:

        I love Mary’s comment too. I was also going to say that our ego can only be formed through interactions with others. As babies we cannot see ourselves. We grow our sense of who we are in relation to how others treat us and how we react to these cues. The teen years are self expression yet conforming within a new group of peers. As adults we want to keep up wight he Jones and look like people in magazines and on TV.
        The journey to be true to ourselves comes later for most of us!
        What is interesting in your post Don is how you saw the difference in di Caprio.
        As we find our authentic self and voice in the world do we also start to look for authenticity in others?…… and notice when something is awry …
        Val

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      • Don says:

        Thanks Val. So much essence in your comment. I too believe with you that it is a developmental process, a kind of a building up of the ego and then a letting go of it and a nurturing of a new self. Yes, I think this phase does come later on in life for many of us, but having said that, I must say that I have met some younger people who are well on their way when it comes to this phase of the journey. It’s quite amazing to see how they negotiate all the stresses and strains of that kind of journey while being in the prime phase of their working life and parental responsibility. I admire them immensely. They give me a tremendous amount of hope for the future of our world.

        You make such a good point about the link between authenticity in ourselves and being able to see it in others. I think you’re right. The more authentic we strive to be the more discerning we are of authenticity in others. Again, thanks for a great comment Val.

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  3. Ann Koplow says:

    Love this post! Thank you.

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  4. Bill says:

    Great post! I truly believe that we can allow ourselves to become what someone else wants us to be. We can become what someone else is if we allow ourselves to. We can become our own self if we open our mind to things around us, ask questions, listen to the answers and never lock down our minds ability to analyze and make interpretations and decisions on its own.

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  5. I think there is a difference in intent and timing. If I am learning to perform ballet there is certainly a period of time I need to mimic others to learn ballet. But if my intent is to be me, there is a point at which I begin to infuse my moves with my own persona. My own sense of inner expression. If my intent is to please others, fit in or be liked then I might never give my performance “me”. I will always perform to other’s desires or views of a good performance. I suspect it is very similar to cooking. Some people follow a recipe to make things. While others begin to improvise. The latter, eventually, become chefs.

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    • Don says:

      ..I might never give my performance “me.” I love that. I was just thinking, we may never give our lives “me.” I’m for following recipes, but the time also has to come when you Toss them out and become, as you, a chef. Wonderful comment. Thank you – I’m going to call you Noelle, if that’s okay. πŸ™‚

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  6. ptero9 says:

    Hi Don,
    I love this post. It has always fascinated me how it is that we are who we are, as there are so many factors involved. I do think in some sense we are an amalgamation of many influences, some biological, some environmental, some circumstantial and some by our own choice. It may also be true that everyone we come to know, sees us differently, so the question of who we are, and how much imitation plays into that is a good one.

    I have always felt that people I admire, whether through personal contact or at a distance, leave me with a little bit of themselves incorporated into my sense of myself. Then again, I do think we all have a unique essence, and life is a matter of coming into relationship with that essence. Of course, we would never be anything without others, meaning, no one lives in a vacuum, thankfully!

    The concept of “acting” itself is interesting as it assumes you can, to some extent, not be you, suspend your identity, and be someone else. But even the best actors display an essence of themselves, yes?
    Debra

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    • Don says:

      You bring home to us, Debra, the complexity of the influences that shape us throughout our lives, so many and so varied – thank you for that.

      I so enjoyed your insight of people who by their influence always tend to leave a bit of themselves in us. I liked the way you phrased that. I’d love to be and watch in that inner place where those “other bits” meet with and permeate our unique essence. Must be a quite a thing to see, a beautiful form of alchemy.

      What was interesting for me with Leonardo DiCaprio was that although I saw those bits of Robert De Niro, I also saw the essence of DiCaprio himself, so I totally agree with your last paragraph. Loved your comment Debra, and by the way, found your recent post extremely informative and challenging.

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  7. A very thought-provoking question Don. I will have to ponder that one. BTW, love the sketch!
    Diana xo

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  8. Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” is a theme song for both actors, even if they imitated others. I think it begins early in our lives, Don, the seeing and hearing others we admire and want to use as our role models, followed by the imitating of the qualities we want for ourselves. Then we mold them to be uniquely ours, and we, too, can sing “I Did It My Way.”
    πŸ™‚

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    • Don says:

      Yes, I’m with you on that Marylin. It’s that “molding them into being uniquely ours” that’s the secret and it does begin very early in our lives. I know that the term “role model” has been cheapened and marred, but role models are important, especially at impressionable ages. Thanks for the thought Marylin.

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  9. A perfect question — and one that I think will be answered in myriad different ways depending upon our life’s situation, but one that needs to be continually brought up for review.
    Your post was a bite-sized piece of thought provoking words to chew on. Lovely stuff, indeed!

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    • Don says:

      So glad you like the question. For a long time now I’ve tried to keep it before me, sometimes not very successfully. πŸ™‚

      Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Much appreciated.

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  10. I just don’t “get” why anyone would want to be other than who they are, in/at their essence. Sure there are admirable traits in others that we might want to emulate but why not find ways to mirror qualities, absent having another’s persona become yours (expressed rhetorically). I appreciate and will use going forward, Vygotsky’s wise quote. Uniquely me, I am not called to become another, except perhaps, my Creator. πŸ™‚

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    • Don says:

      I think Eric, it’s a journey with a tremendous amount of struggle. I don’t like to project my own stuff on people, but I know for me it’s taken a vast amount of trial and error to become who I am today, pretty much myself. When I think back, a number of significant people stand out who had a profound impact on my life, particularly in the formation of my own identity. I too love Vygotsky’s, quote because it honours those significant others. Thanks for sharing. Appreciate your input. πŸ™‚

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  11. Carolyn Page says:

    Nothing sweeter than a mother duck with a handful of ducklings. You’ve captured that sweetness delightfully, Don.

    I’ve always been a little bit of a rebel and loner. When a child, I really didn’t have good examples about me, and had to be very self reliant. As I’ve aged, thankfully, some wisdom has entered my life. I have learned how to behave and present myself by observing those whose lives I respect and admire. Therefore, Don, I can speak from personal experience. I’ve thought critically, made mistakes, had many ups and downs, trials and errors; yet it is all of those things that have created the me of today. Not the same as others; though carved by all about me; the good, the bad, and the…….!

    And yet, Don, I can’t say I feel very much different from that child of so long ago. My personality really hasn’t changed much. I still love nature and music, dance and words. I still love fresh air and flowers, animals and birds. I still want my life to have meaning, and to continue to love and grow. No, Don; even after enjoying the many examples around me, I still only want to be me…

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    • Don says:

      Carolyn I so enjoyed your comment. Something wonderfully human about it. You are so right, it’s all those ups and downs, trials and errors, the good and the bad that ultimately carve out unique identity. I think we’re all a bit like a stone being shaped by the sculptor called life in to a beautiful and unique piece. Thanks for sharing so freely and openly. It’s a gift to us. πŸ™‚

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  12. nrhatch says:

    Like most things in life, there’s a balance between emulating positive traits we admire in others (until they are absorbed into our being ~ claim what isn’t as if it were until it becomes) and losing our essential selves in the process.

    Loved the post and the quackers!

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  13. Once again, Don, you have written a post that makes your readers think about who and what we are. These posts, I notice, always attract a goodly number of comments. You obviously strike a chord with them. πŸ™‚

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    • Don says:

      Thank you Linda. I try and it’s good to know that the the posts might be doing this. It only happens because of people like yourself who are prepared to share. πŸ™‚

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  14. Darrel H says:

    Perhaps a little bit of that Zulu philosophy: Ubuntu also applies here?

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  15. Robert says:

    An interesting point Don. I think it’s a combination of imitation and informed choice. Being different or doing things differently having observed others.

    >

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  16. Don says:

    Yes, Robert the combination you speak of – that’s it. As you say, it’s the difference in the the way the observed things are done. Thank you. πŸ™‚

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  17. Don, I remember worrying about the impact on our children of both my husband’s tendency and my own to be homebodies. While they were little I tried to take them to all kinds of clubs, lessons, and events ( I was trying to copy a supermom I knew). One day we couldn’t find the turn off for a field trip that our homeschool club had arranged. On our ride home my children shared that they were glad to miss it and were tired of going out so much. They preferred to do things as a family.

    It doesn’t pay to force ourselves to fit into someone else’s mold. Now, two of our children (teens) are on the youth group worship team perfectly comfortable being on the stage with others and in front of others (they found their own way to be in community).

    The supermom recently told me that she wished she had not had her kids so over-involved with sports etc. since they lost touch with their spiritual family along the way.

    My lesson in all of this is to remember who we are and only copy what works. The world needs a variety of people. As always, you really know how to get the reader thinking.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

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    • Don says:

      Wendy, thank you for sharing such a thoughtful comment. Your thoughts on the relationship between imitation and finding your own uniqueness are precisely how I see it. I think when we can do this with our children, as you have no doubt done with yours, it’s a real gift. I must agree with you also Wendy when you speak of children being over-involved. I think sometimes this has far more to do with the parents than with the children i.e. fulfilling the ego needs of the parents. Again thank you for such a good comment. πŸ™‚

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      • Don, I agree that the parent’s ego is the reason for most over scheduled lives. Children need free time to discover where their true passions and talents are. Some cultural backgrounds are more driven than others, and my head spins just thinking of how busy those families are. ❀

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  18. Ahmed says:

    that’s very true, your question is such a critical one. I’ve also read an article one day that we imitate or let’s say adopt other theories we read in book and pretend they’re our own, so we get to use them in our lives. the writer said it was wrong but it sounded philosophical, very. I guess you put it in a better way, thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

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