Who are you?
Really, answer the question. I’ll wait. In fact, I’ll answer it too.
If someone asked me that question, for the sake of social convenience I would answer something like this:
I’m Taz, a 20-something year old Brisbanite. I’m professional web designer/developer. I follow a vegan diet. I’m a former domestic violence victim turned personal development blogger. I like crazy hair, make-up, and piercings. I’m single. I identify with polyamory. I have lots of great friends. I have a wonderful family. I like to travel. I’m an atheist. I’m a bit of a geek. I have a good body. I’m a total attention whore and will jump in front of a camera at every opportunity. I have a degree – first in my course and I’m damn proud of it. I’m always late. I’m a Virgo. I love to pole dance (purely for fitness, of course ;)) and I’m going to leave it right there because this is starting to sound like a personals ad. Moving on…
So, that’s me in a nutshell! Are we best friends now that you know me so well? No? Why not? How about if you send me your answer too? Then will we be best friends? You know, because then we’ll like, know each other so well and everything!
Excuse my sarcasm, but put like that it seems like such a silly question and an obvious answer, doesn’t it? How can you possibly know me from that simple paragraph? You know what I do, my general age, some of my experiences, opinions, interests, and probably gleaned that I’m a cynical smart-arse, but the essence of “me” remains elusive. At best, the response is an ultra-high level abstraction, but it’s certainly not “me”.
We put so much emphasis on the labels we give ourselves us that we forget who we really are inside.
Imagine for just a moment that you lost everything you have listed above – your job, your looks, your hobbies, your achievements, your wealth, your religion, and your relationships. All of that will happen eventually. You’ll change jobs or retire. You’ll grow out of hobbies and into new ones. You’ll make new friends and leave old ones behind. Relationships fail. Money is spent. Families die. Societal standards of beauty fade with age. It sounds harsh, but my point is that all of these externalities are transient. It follows that basing our identity on things which by their very nature are destined to perish – usually before us – is a recipe for unhappiness.
I wanted you to get that material nonsense out of the way early so I could ask you the real question: Who are we if we cease to define ourselves through our socially conditioned pigeonholes?
When we abolish society’s standard of how we should identify ourselves, the ego finds itself with nothing extrinsic upon which to cling. Now we’re forced to look below the surface. Past the question of “what we are” to the question of “what drives why we are what we are”. This is where we unearth the values that comprise the core of our being.
Peeling Back the Layers
Let’s go back to our ultra-high level abstraction for a moment. While it’s not “us”, it does give us a basis to begin peeling back the layers to discover our true selves. Let’s take the examples of “atheist” and “single” from my answer.
Am I an atheist because I eschew the virtues extolled by the Church? Is it because I resent the patriarchal structure? Was my family just not very religious so I never had the exposure? Do I express my spirituality in alternative ways such that I don’t feel the need to belong to a religious sect? Was I ever religious? Am I open-minded towards other people’s religious choices or do I stoutly maintain that atheism is the only path? Am I only temporarily an atheist whilst transitioning between religions? Do I feel I need to find a religious organisation to belong to so I don’t go to Hell?
I was introduced to religion from an early age and as a child and young adult I prayed every night for years. As I grew up I decided that religion was a convenient method to control sub-sections of the population by beating their minds into submission through boredom, confusion, and guilt while perpetuating the notion that it’s a good idea to maintain a meek, self-sacrificing nature that was completely at odds with my own commonsense. The push to submit to patriarchal structures whilst silencing my own opinions and desires was not something that sat well with me either. Intelligence and independence are values I hold in high regard, and these values were the core drivers behind my decision to eventually extricate myself from organised religion.
I could be single because I’m a flat-out jerk with no brains or goals, the personality of a dead fish, and the inability to hold down a relationship to save my life. I could have just broken up with someone and not be looking. I could be a closet lesbian. I could be a compassionate and loving person, who wants to avoid relationships while I work through some personal challenges so I avoid hurting people. I could be content just being single and enjoying the spare time and independence. I could be frightened of being in a relationship again.
My actual answers are a combination of four, five, and six. Love, independence, and compassion are some of my most important values. I’m very sensitive to the pain and sadness of others in relationships because I’ve experienced so much of it myself. I love other people and don’t want to hurt them, so I treat others with the love, honesty, and respect with which I would want to be treated. My independent streak resists the idea of being tied down, partly for fear of not being lucky enough to escape if I somehow found myself in an abusive relationship again. These values are the primary drivers of my feelings, reactions to situations, and the decisions I make regarding my intimate relationships.
This is a brief elaboration and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but as you can see the labels “single” and “atheist” lose their meaning very quickly once you begin peeling back the layers to see the real person – the values and opinions that lie beneath. Every other label is exactly the same. The label is merely a judgment cast upon a person by society’s need to generalise, but its meaning becomes diluted the more you know and understand the essence of that person.
Are you living according to your labels or your deepest values? When you peel back the layers, do you like the person you truly are? Are you proud of what makes up the very core of your being? If not, what would you choose to be? Do you realise that you can be that person right now? You don’t have to conform to your labels. You can rip them off and replace them whenever you wish. Or you can rip them off and leave them off, and start living in line with your values instead.
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