Friday, September 12, 2008

Not All Who Wander Are Lost...But Maybe I Am

I've been thinking a lot lately about the issue of personal identity. To ask the trite and overused proverbial question: "Who Am I?" And I find that the answer is often a bundle of contradictions. Who I am is both light-hearted and stoic; poetic and analytical; right and wrong; a loner who longs to be with people, and a shameful conformist. When I think about who I am, my biggest concern is that I might never know.

Self-reference is a sticky wicket, and often quite biased. I'm not sure we can consciously avoid seeing ourselves not as we are, but as we think we are. This may be by believing that we are a worse or better person than we might be in actuality, but ultimately brings about the same result: we cannot self-referentially know who we are.

However, the same problem arises in relying on the accounts of others to know who we are. Other people may certainly be able to offer important insight into who we are in spite of who we believe ourselves to be, but they do not know our thoughts or intentions, and therefore receive an incomplete analysis of who we are. This ultimately brings about the same result: we cannot know who we are simply from the testimony of the others.

Some sort of synthesis is required, but the problem is that we are unsure how to balance our own personal experiences of who we are with the testimony of others. Ultimately, regardless of who we are at this exact moment, our identities are in a constant state of flux and change, especially in a culture so adept at personal re-invention. It seems that we must turn to the words of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: "As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become...Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have." We are still becoming who we are.

“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”

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