We are most fundamentally emotional creatures, and the most fundamental realm of meaning is that of emotion. From the time we are infants, our emotional brains are busy sorting through these needy emotions and attempting to carve out a social identity, a set of things we can call “true”, and a code of behavior. But there is nothing as subjectively real as our emotions.
So we are compelled by these emotions to construct an edifice that can comfortably house our emotions by providing psychological, epistemological and moral frameworks over which we can then drape image, and respectably present ourselves to society.
Because the goal is to cloak our raw and muddled emotions under more presentable walls of definition, this enterprise is inherently illusory, and is most commonly self-delusional. Yet by the time we reach adulthood, we have constructed an elaborate edifice that, if matching the expectations of society, can assure our social well-being.
I’d like to deconstruct the various walls of meaning to expose the raw emotions that we often do not want to admit lie at the foundation of being.
- Identity. This is the most transparent. Many realize that identity is static only where it is thought static. Personhood can change significantly over a lifetime. We say “this is who I am” at our peril. Constructing rigid walls of identity lock us into a self that forfeits a more colorful and fuller life. But, to avoid the swirling and persistent uncertainty and fear, our adolescent minds forge an identity that we often find hard to later modify. We begin to see the image that we have constructed upon our emotions as a rigid entity, and prior to our emotions. This self-delusion serves to maximize predictability and minimize risks, but it often leads to marginal lives. If we can recognize that it is emotions that are the substrate to our identities, and take measures to directly address those emotions rather than merely repainting the peeling facade the same color from time to time, life can become much more dynamic and enriching.
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This post is an elaboration of #7 from a list of things I learned early in life.
The world is full of
other people who would benefit from your adoption of their worldview. And there certainly are significant synergistic benefits that arise from maintaining a common culture within a particular community. Conformity often leads to social harmony and a stress-free life.
However, the world is not entirely altruistic. There are unhappy individuals who have chosen to attempt to maximize their domain of power at the expense of the happiness of others. These people will attempt to force you to fall in obeisance to arbitrary rules of conduct that serve only their own interests. Here are some frequently-uttered phrases heard from the lips these sorry souls.
- Stop trying to be someone you’re not!
- You’re [nationality]! You should act [nationality]!
- Why don’t you act your age?
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Last night I met an intelligent and charming French girl. The conversation inevitably drifted to a stimulating exchange on personal identity and existentialism. The mental afterglow compels me to write on the topic.
When we ask “who am I?”, what are we actually saying? As we consider who we can become, what are some of the hidden assumptions that might hinder finding a content identity? Here are some things to consider.
We are not limited to one identity.
Society often packages discrete identities that it then promotes to its youth. In American high schools, you’ll often find well-defined and non-overlapping categories of identity such as jocks, geeks, preppies, dweebs, nerds and druggies. Youthful yearning for simplicity, as well as peer pressure, compels most students to choose one from among the many choices. However, as we explore life and develop competencies, the demarcation between identities blurs, and many of us learn to live several genuine, yet diverse identities without experiencing existential discomfort.
However, someone who is successfully living diverse identities may experience surprise and disapproval from others who have not yet learned to explore multiple dimensions of identity. Let me make this more tangible by listing a few identities I have lived or now comfortably live.
- Philosophical Blogger. Perhaps many of this blog’s readers know only this side of me. Don’t tell my party friends I enjoy philosophical discourse lest it destroy my playboy image.
- Computer Programmer. I can be as geeky as any other black-clad composer of code. I worked a year as a programmer in Tokyo.
- University Professor. I’m known as a rather demanding professor at my university in Tokyo. My white shirt and tie I wear quite comfortably now.
- Dancing Fool. I love to dance. I can’t help it. Once a week I try to go to a club where I’ll not bump into any friends and just dance.
- Country Boy. I used to milk cows, tend pigs, break horses and buck hay, and had the biceps to prove it. I still wear my cowboy boots from time to time.
- Mexican Fútbol Player. I lived in the mountains of Mexico 6 months, speak Spanish and was the only white boy on a Mexican soccer team for several years.
- Father. I have 3 great kids, all in university now. Being a father is tremendously satisfying, and daily warms my heart. Some find incongruity between this and my own “childish” activities.
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I was once an actor in a situational comedy. It was called “Phil, the Teen Years”. It was based on the premise that this kid gets thrown into life without a clue. It was a big hit among my abusive schoolmates and others who happened to stop and point and laugh at the high-resolution screen of my life.
It was such a big hit, it has now entered its 4th season (PHIL – THE PHOURTIES). And though the humor has become slightly more sophisticated, it is still essentially one big gawfaw.
I enjoy the acting. Each evening after filming, I go home and replay each take. I really can’t help but laugh out loud.
Some of my fellow actors have unfortunately developed what the industry calls “existential angst”. They attempt to hi-jack a perfectly hilarious script and make it a melodrama or action-adventure.
I slapped one such friend recently, and told him Continue reading