Relationships and Identity

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:

  1. Children of some parent (even a hypothetical child created in a lab would DNA that came from someone)
  2. Inheritors of some culture
  3. Students of some teacher
  4. Adherents of some code
  5. Members of some group
  6. Citizens of some nation
  7. Speakers of some language
  8. 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.

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