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Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude by Keohane

Although Keohane does not directly discuss the relationship between education and work, the article provides a valuable perspective on the correlation. Education is personal and professional development while working is contributing to achieving a common goal because there is rarely work that is done entirely by one person alone. In both, a person may experience solitude at times, but he or she is also almost inevitably involved in interactions with society. The main point made by Keohane is that a person should learn to find a balance between those aspects of education and work that are related to self, e.g. self-development and self-cognition, and are linked to solitude and those aspects that are associated with being part of something bigger, e.g. society and collaboration. The skill of finding this balance should be developed for both education and work.

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Keohane begins by discussing the time when a person enters a university as one of the most valuable times in life because this is the time to change and grow. Paradoxically, this is also the time to get to know yourself because self-fashioning will not be carried out from scratch. The author goes on to discuss the concept of solitude and what it means in the context of human nature. Several examples from classical works on political science, including those by Jean-Jacque Rousseau, are given. Keohane concludes this part by stating that many scientists have agreed that “most of what is best about us comes from our interactions with other individuals” (Keohane).

Returning to education, the author discusses how solitude contributes to education and states that society can be a source of both inspiration and pressures for personal development. For example, it is stated that an important component of self-fashioning is becoming a better citizen of a democratic state. After reflecting once again on experiences of solitude and society—this time in the context of historical differences of gender roles—the author concludes that one of the most important abilities a person should develop is “to maintain ‘with perfect sweetness’ the independence of solitude—the integrity and wholeness of the self—amid the crowd” (Keohane).

One of the aspects of this discussion that is often overlooked by other scientists is the difference between the experiences of men and women. Keohane turns to Rousseau’s argument about savage people who live in perfect solitude in a forest and notes that, unlike many theorists, Rousseau acknowledged that life would be different for men and women. Later, Keohane turns to Virginia Woolf’s essay on the isolation of women in Western society that deprived women of opportunities to learn. Keohane’s perspective can be criticized for digressing from the subject of self-fashioning and the relationship between solitude and society, but at the same time, it can be argued that considering the historical inequality and oppression of women provides a more profound understanding of how a combination of being alone and being in a crowd shape a person into who he or she is.

A question that can be raised upon reading Keohane’s article is how self-fashioning through solitude and interaction contributes to happiness. It can be argued that a person needs interactions to be happy (Diener and Chan 16). At the same time, it can be further inquired: what interactions are the most happiness-boosting, and what should be the ratio of interactions to solitude for a happy person?

Works Cited

Diener, Ed, and Micaela Y. Chan. “Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity.” Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, vol. 3, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-43.

Keohane, Nannerl O. “Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude: On crafting a Liberal-Arts Education.” Harvard Magazine. 2013, Web.

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