2013-01-08

Who we are, and what we do.

So many of us try to define who we are based on what we do. I believe in the opposite, that who we are defines what we do. I feel like this is an important distinction to make, because people do a lot of things due to external pressure to try to be something they are not, in hopes that it will change who they are, and people get very afraid of doing certain things, because they are afraid it will change who they are. There is a lot of subtlety here, and I will try to handle it with as much care as I can. Ideas are delicate, and sometimes require gentle handling to make it to their destination intact. Keep in mind that I'm speaking from my own experience, and that the ideas expressed here are the conclusion I've come to from ruminating on my experience. I don't mean to say that I am absolutely right, simply that this is how I currently see things.


I believe that who we are defines what we do, and not the other way around. We spend so much time trying to group each other into categories based on labels, so many of them centered around what we do. Cyclist, cook, photographer, businessman, writer, artist, computer nerd, etc. We are an overly controlling society, making laws that force people to change behavior to fit a certain morality or set of social rules, as if that will really change anything fundamental. I come from a church background that also places huge emphasis on behavior modification. Very few people in my experience as a teenager and adult in the church were concerned with who/how you were, as long as you behaved properly.

There is an issue of intention. People do things for different reasons, and I believe this plays a major part in this issue.

Some people try to change their behavior in order to become something else because there is external pressure to be something else. In this case, to me it seems that all you are doing is changing your clothes. Put that person in a different social situation, with social pressure to be yet something different, and they'd just change clothes to a different style - which means that this behavior change is not changing who they are. They are simply reacting in such a way as to relieve the social pressure on them in the most expedient way. I think we all do this at times, and certainly in our society, there can be major pressure to deal with if you are anything left or right of the sort of 'approved' normal.

Some people want to change their behavior in order to become something else because they feel the internal motivation and desire to do so. In this case, I think more what is going on is that this person is feeling the desire to more fully realize the person that they already are. They are looking for quantitative change, which means exactly that who they are is defining and refining what they do.
One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me...
The issue here is that you cannot really know a person based on what they do. It's much too simplistic to view them that way. Of course, sometimes we have to, simply to be able to communicate at all - we have to settle for a label or a generalization. But in general, the only way to know a person, is to know the person. In order to understand a person, one must spend time with them and get deeper than just doing similar things. I can participate in many of the same activities as another person: let's say cycling, photography, cooking; and also have many of the same character traits: let's say sensitive, opinionated, active sense of justice. This will not mean that we are the same. We could be vastly different people, despite these outward similarities, and this is what I think really belies the idea of our actions changing us on some fundamental level.

So I guess it kind of comes down to this, for me. We are who we are, and over the course of our lives, we can try to stifle and cover up who we are (and there is sometimes immense outside pressure to do just that), or we can nurture and grow it, and more fully develop it. Either way, we are either simply hiding or uncovering the essence that is already there, not changing it.