Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Being a Waiter"

The particular concept of "being a waiter" really intrigued me from today's class discussion, possibly, in part, because I am a waiter. The existentialist idea that one's actions are not defined by one's profession or identity but are instead directly dictated by conscious, free choices seems clear to me. However, there are certain actions in any given profession that you perform. There may be no overbearing force to perform any particular action, but certainly performing particular actions confers an advantage to the subject. For example, as a waiter, one of the actions I must perform is taking an order. I voluntarily choose to take the order, but I do so in order to keep my job. So "being a waiter" may not dictate my actions or who I am as a person but obviously directly influence my actions and choices. However, each particular waiter brings to the table, in this case literally, preconceived notions for how to perform the actions of a waiter. Though this may be in bad faith, a waiter acts as what that person conceives to be the duties and manners of a waiter by the simple declaration that he or she is a waiter. I would argue that this is indeed not in bad faith because these preconceived notions of the idenity of a waiter come from personal perception and experiences. Rather than one trying to be what one isn't, one is actually trying to be what one conceives he/she should become based on personal experiences and not through an inherent perception of what that identity is. The ideal form for a waiter is interpreted differently by each waiter and therefore each waiter has unique actions and makes unique choices. And this interpretation is a subset of personal experiences from a perspective that only that person has had. One learns to "be a waiter" from watching other waiters and judging their performances. So "being a waiter" is actually learned rather than something that appears from birth. And for that reason, though one may seem to be trying to be an identity for the sake of being that identity out of bad faith, one is actually being one's own self; it is inevitable.


C-Sted said...

Steven, I find the idea that your actions as a waiter are voluntary but also advantageous quite interesting. I am reminded of evolutionary biology: any mutation is allowed, but those which are advantageous remain. Natural selection would be the exterior force or mechanism which "compels" certain traits to succeed or fail.

Steven said...

Actually, Collin, I was kind of thinking about natural selection and biology as well when I made this post. Nice pick up.

I think natural selection is a very applicapble term in this context, beyond a biological context. Yes, your actions absolutely determine how you are perceived. And maybe there is no soul or central essence present to a person at birth. But either way, one's actions create a cause and effect chain. For example, if a waiter does not perform certain actions in a certain manner, he/she will likely get fired. This "natural selection" selects for the best to remain. The sense of "cause and effect" in my mind actually does exist; but the element of existentialism that I also buy into is that one has adequate control over effects based on their actions that might cause those particular effects. Rather than what might be considered by an existentialist to be in bad faith, a person acts a certain way because it is advantageous and because that's how one perceives himself/herself to fit into a role.