There is an idea that has developed in our culture that you and I can define ourselves precisely as we wish to and that so-doing is indeed the only path to happiness and human fulfillment in general. Charles Taylor described this outlook decades ago:
“There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. But this gives a new importance to being true to myself. If am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me…Not only should I not fit my life to the demands of external conformity; I can’t even find the model to live by outside myself. I can find it only within…Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, and that is something only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself.” Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 29.
The problem with this notion is that it is stupid.
You and I are, whoever we happen to be are some combination of the following:
- Children of some parent (even a hypothetical child created in a lab would DNA that came from someone)
- Inheritors of some culture
- Students of some teacher
- Adherents of some code
- Members of some group
- Citizens of some nation
- Speakers of some language
- Possessors of some body
The list goes on. These things do not, perhaps, exhaust personal identity, but they certainly do contribute to it. I would guess that learning to fulfill such roles with duty might lead to honest delight in the cases of many people.
Anyway, a great deal of people seem to think that these very relationships keep them from being who they are. I submit that these relationships are what make us who we are.
End of thoughts.