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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who Am I?

”Take me for what I am
Who I was meant to be
And if you give a damn
Take me baby; or leave me”

~”Take Me Or Leave Me,” Rent

Recently, there was some drama in my life.

This wasn’t the sort of drama that, as one might guess from knowing my considerable ability to create conflict, actually involved me as a participant. No, I was on the periphery of this particular drama. But the situation was one that is very, very familiar to me and probably to anyone who happens to read this, and the situation was this: one person liked another person. This second person was not displaying the same desire as the first, and ergo, the spurned of the two was making overtures about the object of their want’s behavior.

The details are not necessary; the important part of all of this, and the part that got me thinking, was that in the course of talking through the situation, we got into a discussion about what elements of a person’s behavior constitute “the person” or their “personality,” and more specifically, what is changeable and what is not.

The thing about it is, the common wisdom on the subject seems to be contradictory. So much of our culture tells us that you have to be willing to compromise, but never alter the core of “what makes you, you.” You can’t change a man, but you should be able to expect him to change for you. And all of that. And above all, people should love you for “who you are” and nothing else.

What got to me is: what the hell does that even mean? People talk about their identity as if they are, deep down, some sort of static entity. Like, yeah, I can call her more often, but I can’t change who I am inside. This is some of the dumbest shit I have ever heard in my life.

There is no “you.” This is true for everyone. There are things you like, but none of it is inherently unalterable. No facet of a person is anything other than a construction – one that developed ‘naturally’ throughout their formative years or one they consciously chose. Yet those who decide to alter the former are considered ‘fake’ and typically branded as such. But only if the change is seen as negative.

Consider two people. Fischer grows up as a nice guy, who is genuinely warm and seems to care a lot about his friends, family and community and isn’t particularly interested in ‘superficial’ pursuits. Kenny is the exact opposite – he’s vain, egotistical, self-centered and a womanizer. Both of them move away, and ten years later at a high school reunion, Fischer comes back and he’s completely different. He’s started obsessing over his appearance, talks about nothing but his career and gossip. Kenny, on the other hand, became a Buddhist monk, dresses in nothing but plain earth-tones and has become to spiritual person that so many aspire to be.

In that situation, both people have changed themselves. They’ve done so consciously and diverted from their ‘natural’ state. Yet, with few objections, Kenny’s transformation is considered ‘positive’ while Fischer’s is ‘negative.’ It’s always okay to ‘change who you really are’ if it’s in a direction that gives you a perceived increase in personal capital, but not one that seems to reduce it. It’s not social value, either – most people aspire to a good career and a reasonable level of affluence, but someone who ‘sells out’ and becomes a biglaw partner instead of working for the ACLU would be seen as having ‘changed who they are’ in a way that would draw derision.

I guess my only point is: it’s uniformly considered bad to change from a state of social acceptance to social rejection, but the justification that “you’re not being who you are” is one that is completely wrong and obviously not inherently bad. And one that has probably been invented by people too lazy to change parts of themselves they dislike, so they can justify it by saying, “But, it’s who I AM!”

cranked out at 6:04 AM | |

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