How do you define yo‍‍‍ur “I”?

When it comes to affirming our individual personal identity, the journey has to be life and the goal is becoming the one true version of the Self.

This version of self knows it all- which shoes to pick, which job to apply for, who would make a great partner, what to say and when to say, and not to worry a single bit about what others think. This self is ultimate, it is ideal, and at peace.

The ideal self, as would be the case, seems out of reach. If decoded, the ultimate self is a constitution of our expectations of who we should be (our identity) and what we should be doing (our actions)- both, when interwoven, spin the fabric of our individual personal identity. But, what of these expectations and actions if there’s no one to judge and validate either? We learn to formulate the perfect, precise answer to who we are in case our identity is questioned. In other words, our identity is of value only when ascribed to a social scenario.

The many “I”s

It’s a mandate. The need to define identity, that is. From early on, a variety of labels begin their individual tryst with us. From a sex to a gender, to a name and then to the labels we inherit - a family name,  a family, a community, a city, a state, and eventually a nation-state. As we gain years, the labels are replaced by new ones, though the original boxes must remain the same. That is because when casually asked “who are you” or “where are you from”, there’s a solid, impermeable answer.

This answer defines you.

Essays, books, conversations, relationships - the identity question activates so many of these dynamic productions and experiences of the human mind. And all, if closely observed, lead to one fact- that identity is not solid. It is continually fluid and forever picking up new dimensions along the way.

We are expected to pursue these changes as identity add-ons. Once we’re born, we are expected to go to school, graduate, go to college, get an internship, graduate, go to grad school, work while we study, graduate, get a job, pay off loans, get married, pay off loans, have kids, pay off loans, buy a house, pay off more loans, get the kids through school, college, grad school, pay off your loans, become the best grandpa or grandma, hopefully you’re done paying loans, die.

That’s it - that’s the standard check list at the most basic level.

From just being a new life on Earth, we learn to make something of this life - we learn to build our personal identity - if we’re lucky, this personal identity is a combination of what we inherited and what we created, what we chose. Sometimes, it’s simply a result of what we inherited and what we couldn’t create.

Some have the opportunity and circumstance to cross out the entire list, and some don’t. Either way, how we make our way through the list dictates our identity. Nevertheless, we still learn to be that unique self we are expected to be, that specific pattern that makes us, us.

Identity defined‍‍‍‍‍‍

“‍‍‍'But you must have thought about things,' I said. 'About your life, about the human condition.' Chris became surprisingly introspective.

'I did examine myself,' he said. 'Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.'

— Michael Finkel, The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last Hermit

“‍‍‍'At the very end of each of our visits, I’d always asked him the same question. An essential question: Why did he disappear? He never had a satisfying answer. 'I don’t have a reason.' 'I can’t explain why.' 'Give me more time to think about it.' 'It’s a mystery to me, too.' Then he became annoyed: 'Why? That question bores me.'


The pursuit of I

Without a social context, and no “audience to perform for”, the “I” is nullified. Yet the I, when without a social context, remains a stunning composition of the experiences, memories, and trails that make up our life’s pattern. And if the I is a combination of multiple identities, then choosing one or a few to define our personal identity is sinful.

It is only when we need to prove ourselves apart that we strive to share our identity, disclose what we take “special pride in”, and define our individual self.

Our pursuit of our individual identity helps us make sense of the world. It helps us connect the various dots of our existence, eventually qualifying the journey we set on and, inevitably, conclude.

Our existence however deems no value if not in relevance to others. So, if instead of defining our one true self, what if we choose to create and accept multitude versions of our identity, and do the same for others?

Where we thrive not in our individuality, but instead, in our individual multiplicity.

In a splendid brainpickings post on the Self, there’s an excerpt from education pioneer Annemarie Roeper on the topic of identity.

"[We have] a sense of the mystery of life, the mystery of the universe that surrounds us, and the mystery that is within us. It is within these vast unknowns that we try to establish our identities. We strive to carve out a place that is known, a place that we can manage, a place that is safe, a place that allows us to grow our unique Selves. This is nothing less than our struggle for psychic survival, a need for identity: tribal identity, national identity, group identity, a family identity, and finally, an individual identity."

But during our final visit, he was more reflective. 'Isn’t everybody,' he said, 'seeking the same thing in life? Aren’t we all looking for contentment?' He was never happy in his youth—not in high school, not with a job, not being around other people.

Then he discovered his camp in the woods. 'I found a place where I was content,' he said. His own perfect spot. The only place in the world he felt at peace.'

— Michael Finkel, The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last Hermit

Defining one’s identity is not as much a mandate as it is an inherited necessity, and one that’s passed on through generations. But, if the I only makes sense in the context of “US”, why pursue the I at all? Why do we clock in hours to realize the potential of I?

Credit: Jeremy Thomas

Stanford University’s James D. Fearon suggests the term “identity” links the “social” and the “personal”.

In the former sense, an “identity” refers simply to a social category, a set of persons marked by a label and distinguished by rules deciding membership and (alleged) characteristic features or attributes. In the second sense of personal identity, an identity is some distinguishing characteristic (or characterisics) that a person takes a special pride in or views as socially consequential but more-or-less unchangeable.

To explain it further, Fearon begins his definition of identity as the X in the statement “I am an ‘X’”. The statement being a response to the question, “Who are you?”.

Take a moment and fill in your own Xs. We know. There isn’t just one.

The ideal self

Yet, we insist on being purists about the notion of identity. We insist on defining the I when we are constantly adding layers to that same “I”. We insist on simplifying a complex and certainly defining aspect of our lives. With that, are we not limiting what is inherently limitless?

Now, how did you pick your responses? Was it in priority of what you preferred of your identity makeup? Was it in priority of what you think others prefer of your identity, or was it in order of what you hope are your best identities?

Fearon posits identity to be a relatively new term with common use in “ordinary language” or everyday talk.

Think about the number of times you’ve referred to your sense of identity to make a decision: from something as banal as choosing a pair of shoes to something as defining as saying yes to a job, you probably find yourself asking “is this really me”? The pros and cons list you might create to make a decision are all interpretations of your identity, and the resolution to the process is either a confirmation of your identity or an addition to it.

The question of “is this really me” and the answer to it is, therefore, rooted in your sense of personal identity.

Personal identity is a set of attributes, beliefs, desires, or principles of action that a person thinks distinguish her in socially relevant ways and that (a) the person takes a special pride in; (b) the person takes no special pride in, but which so orient her behavior that she would be at a loss about how to act and what to do without them; or (c) the person feels she could not change even if she wanted to.

So, to backtrack, one’s personal identity is really about how she stands out amongst others- the features, qualities, actions that make her, her. Most interestingly, it’s what one takes “special pride in”. To take special pride in anything, there must be a journey, a commitment, goals, and ultimately, realizing those goals.

On the choices one makes on this journey, Scottish philosopher David Hume says:

"Our impressions give rise to their correspondent ideas; and these ideas in their turn produce other impressions. . . . as the same individual republic may not only change its members, but also its laws and constitutions; in like manner the same person may vary his character and disposition, as well as his impressions and ideas, without losing his identity. Whatever changes he endures, his several parts are still connected by the relation of causation.”

The causation is the “I”.

I am a/an

I am also a/an

I am

I am

I am

Credit: Alex Wong

Credit: Artxman


observe. write. express.


Copyright 2016

Wandering Local. Design by Imagyne.


Copyright 2016

Wandering Local. Design by Imagyne.










origin street