Examining How We Define Ourselves
Being asked to tell someone about yourself can feel daunting. The question of “Who am I?” is a big question. When we are asked to describe ourselves, the information we often include our name, where we live, how old we are, are we a sibling or an only child, married or single, what we do for work, and perhaps some activities that we do for fun.
When we use facts like these to describe who we are, it can be practical for things like assessing whether we would be a good fit as a tenant, friend, or employee, but how much do these facts really tell others about ourselves? And what do these attributes tell US about ourselves?
John Locke, 1632-28 – 1704, was a philosopher who claimed that personal identity was neither your soul nor your brain, but rather your consciousness. His argument was that a brain is material and can therefore change, but consciousness is real personal identity because your memories and experiences are what create and define you. His claim is controversial though, because it follows that if you lost your memories you would be a different “person” in the same body.
Although Locke’s claim is controversial, they do match up with the way we define ourselves by our hobbies, careers, and dating status. When the way we describe ourselves to others are all surface level facts about our lives, we risk only defining ourselves on a surface level.
One way that I have seen this cause problems in my own life is when I get jealous around people who share certain identity traits with me. I see myself as a planner and an overachiever, so when I am introduced to someone who is also a planner and an overachiever, I find myself feeling jealous or competitive because it feels as though someone has taken something of mine.
The truth is that I should never feel jealous or competitive, instead I should feel a sense of connection and excitement that I have found someone who values similar things that I do. The attributes I hold as my identity are not something that only I have, they are just attributes.
So as much as defining ourselves as our hobbies or work-style could be useful for applying for jobs or meeting a new friend, it is so important that we work on defining ourselves on a much deeper level. How do you cope with fear? What is your greatest dream? How do you view death? Why do you love reading and what does that say about you?
These things may still be shaped by memories and experiences, but they go much deeper than the surface and challenge ourselves to reflect inward on who we really are.