Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

What is identity?

Written by: Skevi Laou

Have you ever found yourself “checking out” people that are passing in front of you in a park or even while you are having your afternoon coffee time? Since I was a little kid, I remember observing all the people around me, how they behave, how they move or talk. Trying to understand them, or trying to see the world through their eyes. Growing up I never lost my curiosity, however less and less people catch my attention through their originality. By traveling, though, I am finding that I am interested in people with different cultures and backgrounds. They have so many things to teach me and sometimes I feel that they are familiar to me, or match some of my values that I never thought I had.

At the moment, it is the first time in my life that I’ve stayed in a country for more than 5 months, without giving myself the choice to go back home, not even for a weekend. Since I knew this from the beginning, I tried to connect with people here in order to create a home. In my mind, coming from a background, in which I am very connected with my family and friends, I had never considered myself a person that could feel close to people from other countries and feel so connected with them. But, right now, I could count 3 people that I feel I have known my whole life since the day I met them. Sometimes, it is not the years that build the connection, you just feel that you fit in with them.

In this article, I want to talk about individuality, or break down the idea we have in our minds about individuality. We are millions of people on this planet, with so many differences between us. Differences for example are based on our interests, our skills, things that we like, our gender or even our ethnicity. Even if we focus on one of these subjects, the conversation will go on for hours, in order to check how many different perspectives a subject can have. However, do you believe that our identity is stable and fixed though? That since we grow up, we are creating an identity and it is stable? David Hume believes that the idea of the self doesn’t persist over time. That means that he thinks that the concept of the self is just an illusion. This could be a terrifying statement though, depending on how you look at it. If we are not the same person we used to be years ago then could our relationships with other people change depending on our current self?

There are two other theories about identity. The first one says that you remain the same “you” over time, because you are occupying the same body from birth to death. The other theory, John Locke’s, claims that personal identity persists over time because you retain memories of yourself at different points, and each of those memories is connected to the one before it. So, you are who you are, because you remember being yourself in the past. On the other hand, if we take the theory of David Hume, then what is this feeling that makes you feel like yourself? What you call yourself is just a bundle of impressions, he says, consisting of a zillion different things. This impression consists of our mind, body, emotions, preferences, memories, even the labels that are imposed to us by others. (Crash Course Philosophy #20)

So now we can begin answer the previous question: “can our relationships with other people change depending on our current self?” I believe yes. Maybe when we meet a friend after some time, and we are both changed. In the beginning he might look a bit like a stranger, but when we interact again with this person, then we connect again in the same way we used to. When we have a frequent interaction with someone, we are changing together, and we are not questioning whether we fit together. I can also say that if some parts of us survive through time, it is due to the fact that they are psychologically connected to our previous selves, so we tend to remember and embrace our “identity,” as we named it.

Canterbury, Kent UK [taken by me]

So, if we believe the above theories, we can delete the theory of us retaining an identity for years, and that we can press “delete” on the past self and create a new one. It is a very optimistic theory for misfits that feel their personality can fit anywhere. However, the question is; do you want to fit in, or to stand out? After years and years of stereotypes about how the perfect man and woman should be, nowadays the “new trend” on social media is to talk about the people that are socially misfit. And a social misfit is generally thought of as someone who doesn’t fit in with the majority of others in society (Liveabout.com).

Added to that, I will mention Sheron Shamulia, a TEDx speaker at Leuven, and her speech “Not fitting in, just perfect!”. She explains that when you feel that you don’t fit in, you are forced to see the world in a completely different perspective. When you don’t try to fit anymore, you start updating yourself, every time you meet an inspiring person. When you don’t have a label, you don’t try to fit in any box. As a result, you have much more room to be who you want to be. You can update yourself, be the best version that you know and integrate all the good parts that you see from other people, you can make them your own and be the best non fitting person that you can be. “A mind is like a parachute, if it’s not open, it’s not working.” (Frank Zappa-Man of Utopia Album).

I recently read a line of a writer, that really explains this situation in simple words; “where you are. is not who you are.” (Nayyirah Waheed, salt 2013). We are not trees that cannot move, we can just take the first plane and find where we fit in. Although, how we understand that “yes, here I belong”, when there is a huge range of possibilities in this big world? I could just say that, in order to feel that you belong, you just need a place where you feel comfortable, where you feel yourself. And if you can’t even feel this anywhere, remember that you can also have a new start, a blank page to write again.