This week, for around thirty minutes, I sat in the courtyard in front of Hayden Library and I observed. I observed the behaviors of my peers around me with my two interdisciplinary concentrations–Psychology and Philosophy–in mind, but more specifically, I related their behaviors with some key concepts from each of my subject areas. Relating to Psychology, the concept I chose was self-presentation. Self-presentation is the process through which we try to control the impressions people form of us. The main goals people try to accomplish through the process of self-presentation include being liked, being seen as competent, and being seen as having high status and power. The second key concept I chose to observe and relate to student behavior relating to Philosophy is virtue. Virtue is generally defined as behavior showing high moral standards, and is a common point in philosophical discussion.
In the Hayden courtyard area I could see the entire courtyard, the steps leading down to main entrance, the inside of the coffee shop, the inside of the study area behind the coffee shop, as well as the main entrance to the library. In these spaces, students had ample opportunity to demonstrate processes of self-presentation. The first example of this I saw was when a male student offered to buy a female student’s coffee for her. Another thing I noticed was that (and this is a rough approximation) approximately 80% of the people passing through the main entrance alone were either talking on the phone, or appeared to be text messaging someone. This demonstrates the principle of wanting to appear competent through showing the “trappings” of competency, or in this case, either remaining on the phone or pretending to be on the phone in order to appear popular or in-demand. Additionally, there were many students at the library who seemed to be much more focused on their school work than their self-presentation. The way the tables are arranged outside of the Hayden cafe, it allows those who want to socialize to do so, and also accommodates those who wish to be left alone. They are also off to the side, as not to interfere with the people entering and exiting the library. The window leading inside the study area showed dozens of kids sitting alone, many of them with headphones on, on the computer, reading, and studying. Many of these people didn’t show any overt evidence of self-presentation that I noticed. The arrangement of the courtyard ultimately allows people to self-present in subtle, everyday, extremely common kinds of ways. Additionally, self-presentation only performs subtle and personal functions in this environment. Those socializing use self-presentation to become liked and form new relationships or maintain existing ones. Those studying use self-presentation to appear competent, or even to just blend into the background. Those working at the coffee show use self-presentation to appear both competent and likable in order to earn tips. Those passing by use self-presentation simply to uphold societal norms and appear average. There are many rules that govern behavior in a space such as the library courtyard. For example, people recycle and throw their trash away. One girl even cleaned trash that someone had left on a different table in addition to her own. The people that are smoking use ash trays, they don’t throw their cigarette butts on the ground. People passing each other do not stare at one another. People tend to mind their own business, an unspoken rule at the Hayden Library.
There is also ample opportunity to demonstrate the concept of virtue in an area such as the library courtyard as well. People choose to recycle rather than trash bottles, cans, etc. Customers at the coffee shop say please and thank you. People (for the most part) will hold the door open for the person walking in or out behind them. Smokers do not blow their smoke in the way of non-smokers. A homeless man walked down the stairs and asked a girl next to me for a cigarette. Whether this action was rooted in virtue or fear is probably debatable, though. People, for the most part, were polite. Two men dressed nicely met up and shook hands before entering the library. As a girl was leaving, she dropped her notebook and a guy walking the opposite direction bent down, picked it up, and handed it to her. There was also an instance of the opposite virtue, as the people at the table lose to mine began having an extremely loud and inappropriate conversation in a timid and relaxed area. Although there were no extreme examples of virtue, my observations in the courtyard made me realize that people my age, (again for the most part) are polite and treat each other with a considerable level of respect. The space allows for this idea to remain consistent: there are many doors to hold open, recycle cans and ash trays to use. There are windows to stare in, but people still refrain. This is another unspoken rule. For the most part, though, the unspoken rule in the library courtyard is just to behave in a polite and dignified way. Clean up after yourself, respect the people around you, and stay out of the way! The function of virtue is to ensure our sociality as human beings. The more virtuous one is, the better their life will be, as it allows them many social connections and benefits.
My psychological concept of self-presentation and my philosophical concept of virtue have a much stronger relationship than I ever before realized. Virtue is a part of self-presentation for many people. They use virtuous and kind actions to present themselves as virtuous and kind people. Without virtue, self-presentation would take a completely different course.