Who am I?
First of all, why do we keep asking ourselves this question ? Why do we need to know who we are ? Do other animals keep asking themselves who they really are ? Do you think your cat is questioning himself about his identity ?
The moment we leave our mother’s womb, we initiate a process of endless individuation. When we’re born, we have no solid sense of self, and therefore, everything that surrounds us, becomes our self. We are our mother, we are our father, we are everything around us.
As we learn about the world around us, as we learn about ourselves, what is considered to be “I”, ceases to fulfill this purpose, and starts to be considered as an external entity. As time flows, we realize that we are not our mothers, we are not our fathers, we are not nature, we are not who we first thought we were.
During this process of constant individuation, this process of ceasing to be things we previously thought we were, we start to feel lonely. We no longer feel like we’re part of something, we start to question the purpose of our own existence.
This fact by itself should not be a problem, however, we are currently living in a society where everything is possible, where 18-year-old people are millionaire, where anyone could open a successful business, where anyone could become a rockstar. We live in a society full of dreams, full of hopes. We live in a society that gives us freedom to be whoever we want to be. Never before has a generation been so free to decide about who we are, and never before has a generation been so lost about who we actually are.
Maybe Sartre was right, we are condemned to be free
Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. — Jean-Paul Sartre
We would not need to worry about who we were, if we were not free to decide about it, however, the freedom to decide, gives us so many possibilities, that we frequently become scared of thinking about this kind of stuff.
Instead of thinking about my identity, it’s so much easier to just go with the flow, and become your age, your sex, your race, your job title, and your academic titles, right ?
Hi. My name is Jonathan, I’m 22 years old, I am graduated in computer science, and I work as a Software Developer.
Done. No questions asked, that’s pretty much who I am.
Wait a minute… Does this definition actually has any meaning ? I’ve just described titles that have been given to me. Labels, and with each of these labels, a set of traits and characteristics, to help you judge my personality.
22 years-old ? Too young, still needs to learn many things about life
Computer Science ? Omg, finally someone that I can count on, when my printer stops working.
Software Development ? Well… I guess this is not the kind of person I’m going to party with. I bet he only stays at home playing video-games, drinking Coke and eating pizza.
Our lives are full of titles, and we are gradually becoming them. How about the person who think its superior to other people, just because his title is “CEO” ?
Ok, I got it, I’m not the titles that were given to me, but who am I ?
From an existentialist perspective, our existence precedes our essence, which means that we first exist, and then we become. Existentialism says that there’s no such thing as a human-nature. We are not born who we are. Who we are is constantly being shaped by our decisions, and by our experiences. We affect the world, therefore, the world ceases to be what it used to be. The world affects us back, therefore, we cease to be what we were a moment ago. This constant chain of reactions makes us have no solid identity.
To every moment you question yourself “Who am I ?” there will be a different answer, based on the experiences you had, and the decisions you made, up to that moment in time. So don’t be so obsessed about trying to find a definition for yourself, because, by the moment you actually find it, you will no longer be it.
Being or Having ?
Capitalism has brought us to a mostly materialistic realm of existence. In the Having mode of existence, we are what we have, and therefore, we need to protect what we have, because losing it, would also mean, losing part of ourselves. This is the mode of existence that favors things over experiences. In order to be, I need to have. If I don’t have it, my existence is meaningless, my life is purposeless.
The having mode of existence is extremely dangerous, because we become slaves of things that are external to ourselves. We become slaves of our possessions. We don’t use things, we are used by it.
The other mode of existence, is the mode of being.
In the mode of being, you are what you experience, you don’t crave possessions, you crave admiration, you learn to contemplate. In the mode of being, everything that makes you, is within yourself. There’s no need to worry about losing the things that makes you, because as long as you have yourself, you have everything it takes to be yourself. You’re not a slave of your needs. You seek self-knowledge, for this is what is going to set you free. You embrace uncertainty, because you don’t need to be certain of things, to be able to keep moving forward.
In the mode of being, you don’t pluck the flower, you contemplate it.
Jesus teaches: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” (Luke 9:24–25).
In the mode of being, you understand that we all come from dust, and to dust we all should return. (Ecclesiastes 3:20)
In the mode of being, you truly love. In the mode of being, you’re self aware of your own existence, and the existence of others. You experience mindfulness.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t actually matter who you are. What truly matters, is how you deal with the things that happens to you. How you react to events, and how you treat other people. Let’s not forget that, If our life has no meaning, other than the one we give it, we can assume that pretty much everyone is lost, and in the same boat.
This is a call for compassion. A call for empathy.
I wrote this text to make you think about what is the mode of existence that you’re currently living. Let’s all practice the being mode, and eventually, we will reach a level that we won’t be worried to much about who we are, as long as we are alive enough to contemplate life, and the life of others around us.
Good night ;)
To Have or To Be — Erich Fromm
The Art of Loving — Erich Fromm