Some human occupations involve the entire person and cannot be separated in the way they can be for 9 to 5 jobs. Those “occupations” include clergy, actors, artists of every sort, and prostitutes. (I challenge that. Did I say that? Maybe some people CAN do sexwork without involving their whole selves.) Sometimes, in the case of clergy, the individual’s personal behavior separates from the professional qualities necessary for the job. Preparation through seminaries or other means are intended to make sure that doesn’t happen. The preparation is called “formation.”
In the case of clergy, integrity and authenticity are given high value. A person who has separated part of his or her self in order to act in unclergylike ways, is bound for trouble. But in the case of a sexworker, a person would be well-served by the ability to confine the daring, risk, invasion, shock and other sexual values to a specific time and place that can be kept separate. This is not to deny that some possible qualities of sexworkers (understanding, empathy, compassion, compliance) might be admirable in another circumstances and people who can preserve those qualities and carry them to ordinary life are fortunate.
The sex worker who falls in love with clients is in trouble. Tricks look for people with no boundaries (abused or very young) because they want to trouble their worker. It’s part of the experience. The same applies to clergy, but also in the opposite way: some people want to trouble authority figures like clergy. Sometimes this is revenge, and sometimes it’s an attempt to wake them up and get them functioning.
An actor is somewhere in between. Getting totally absorbed into the work blocks off the ability to value and learn from all of human life in the world. But on the other hand, shutting out empathy, the merging with other personalities, the suspension of taboos, may cramp and diminish the acting. Exploring a taboo -- let’s say heroin addiction -- is not the same as becoming addicted to heroin. Where is the line between allure and restraint? If an actor acts gay for a performance, will he become gay?
Luckily, human beings are able to assume different roles within their own identity. In some increasingly detectable way (fMRI), brains and bodies -- which always work together -- can be their own True Self at the same time that they can be one or more “Mock Selves,” both as actors and as ordinary happily functioning human beings. The “formation” of an actor, therefore, must help them recognize and manage their own inner boundaries between selves. This is done largely with sensory information -- present and remembered -- reflection from others, and experiences like observation and exercises, including physical exercise.
A big part of this is what might be called the “holding culture.” To be clergy in one time and place (let’s say upper crust Boston in the 19th century) might be quite different from a similar role (let’s say San Francisco in the Sixties). A high awareness of culture -- not to obey but to negotiate -- shapes (forms) such activities as ministering or paid sex. Even if the person is able to step away from the cultural prescription, the people around the person will still be responding to it.
It is ridiculous for a religious leader to advocate the recommendations of his point of view, whether or not it is institutionalized in dogma, but not to act out the reality, the illustration in his or her own life. This hypocrisy in itself is tolerated by some cultures or subcultures (priests who molest boys) but severely punished by larger or opposing cultures. On the other hand, the official cultural position may oppose something that is secretly needed and protected. (A respectable sexworker in a small town.) To distinguish between these two positions -- advocacy without obedience versus seeming compliance as protection -- is an excellent subject for drama.
One of the good uses of institutions and rule-based ethics is that both protect boundaries or at least promote awareness of them. Both are forces for “formation” that are particularly helpful for people still in the process.
Some people are faced with the necessity of “re- formation.” They are usually removed from the larger culture temporarily, so as to have the support of a small “holding community” where they are guided and monitored. (The Catholic church maintains several of these retreats.) Whether this works depends in part on the person’s own willingness to examine and either strengthen or remove boundaries. Institutions and moral rules can be splints for broken or weak bones or they can be Procrustean and crippling shells that prevent vital growth.
At some point all efforts at “formation” must confront the issue of worthiness. If there is doubt either about how to define that or how the person being formed succeeds in embodying it, trouble results. And yet both the nature of the goal form and the potential of the candidate to fulfill that form must find a balance between being too easily challenged versus destructively confined. Much of that balance will depend on human experience, often painful in the extreme. Cultures are relentless. The embodiment of Jesus was crucified.
But each human is unique; each is a new embodiment, each is in a slightly different culture. What if Jesus had manifested in India, built an ashram, acquired many inspired students, became highly revered, led successful cultural reforms and died as an old man? What if he had been female in the American West? This kind of thinking inspires movies.
Most of us are aware of “formation” if only that imposed by our families, and then again aware of “re-formation” when we grow up a bit and discover worlds quite different from what our families knew. Some of us learn to think in terms of the “greater good” for all human beings and the necessity of rule-morality (laws) to keep order. Some again want to impose MORE laws for the even greater good: “No more big sugary drinks for you, kid!” Where is the line? To some degree the universe is always out of control. (The melting of the arctic and antarctic poles.) No rule will work. Humans as species may be doomed. What “formation” can cope with that?
Some riot. Some retreat. Some use drugs. Some pray. Some start a garden. Responses have probably already formed in both individual and culture. Whether or not they are effective in any way is irrelevant.