On Being A Human Being
Unless you were living under a rock these past several months, you would’ve been privy to the toxic tribalism that has become the hallmark of American politics. And all politics, really. What stood out to me most was how much those around me identified with their political parties.
I AM a Republican.
I AM a Democrat.
Well, perhaps you tend to agree with Republican policies over Democratic policies 53% of the time, but you ARE a Republican? Or you ARE a Democrat?
If you stop and think about it, it sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
The “Me” vs The “I”
Something I have often considered since becoming a mother is that children are special because they are yet uncorrupted by society. They are mostly just their essence. And they serve as a reminder for all of us of our own essence.
Olivia is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. In fact, until about a few months ago, she didn’t even know she was “a girl.” One day she came home from daycare and proclaimed,
“I’m Olivia and I’m a girl!”
I raised my eyebrows in a way that was pleasant but caught off guard.
“Yes, you are a girl,” I confirmed for her.
I had never shared that with her before — someone at school must have.
Someone at school had given her this new way to identify herself. But if she didn’t know she was a girl the day before, is being a girl truly essential to who she is as a human being?
I’ve often thought about identity in the context of Olivia’s Persian heritage. Olivia has no idea that she’s Persian any more than she understands she’s an American of Irish descent. She doesn’t know she’s a Virginian; she doesn’t know that she’s British. She doesn’t know these things because they’re not who she is at her core. They are not her “I.” They are not what make her a human being.
It fascinates me to consider that I’ll watch Olivia have these identities, these things she’ll consider “me,” placed upon her. I’ll watch the “corruption” of her pure human essence take place and while I’ll try to slow it, I won’t be able to stop it.
I imagine some of her identities she’ll embrace because they will be laced with positive connotations and they’ll feel natural, like being “a girl” did.
Some identities, particularly where we live, may be accompanied by negativity, perhaps even racism.
I understand that if I don’t help her navigate this process, it’s possible that she could develop low self-esteem and lack self-confidence, just like I see among so many of my peers that struggle with being themselves. I suspect my peers don’t yet understand their actual struggle is reconciling and making sense of these identities, these things they consider “me,” which are in fact, totally arbitrary. The task before them is to peel away those things that make them “me” until they arrive back at their “I,” their true essence, that which makes them a human being.
What Do You Mean by Arbitrary Identity?
Imagine I had died giving birth to Olivia back in London. Imagine she was adopted by a loving Italian couple who couldn’t conceive and that she was flown back Milan where she was raised speaking Italian, having Italian friends and family, and with all the customs of being Italian. By the time she’s a young girl, she’s Italian.
Or is she?
It’s just a different road traveled, is it not? This is just a different identity, a different “me,” layered upon her and I’ve just shown you that it’s completely arbitrary, haven’t I?
The only thing that would be the same, the only thing that would be true, is the human being, the Earthling, at the core.
So, if you ever feel negatively about being you (which I assume a lot of people do because I encounter low self-esteem all day long in others), keep in mind it’s not really you that you’re feeling negatively about. It’s probably some identity that’s been layered upon you by either your friends, your family, or your society.
So just peel it away.
That’s so much of an enlightened adulthood, isn’t it? Just peeling away our identities until we arrive back at the core, then selectively layering back on what makes sense for us, what’s meaningful, until we arrive at an identity that feels right, hopefully keeping in perspective that it’s all arbitrary.
What If My Low Self-Esteem Is Not Really An Identity Crisis, But Stemming from Conflict in My Life?
Regarding conflict, and this may not necessarily be significant conflict in your life, it could just as easily be microaggressions from those you consider your closest friends and family, let me begin by stating that no one else can make you feel bad. No one else has any power over you.
That bad feeling you have, it’s your feeling. It came from you. It’s inside of you. And it will pass. Like the clouds overhead, it will roll in and it will roll out. It’s just a feeling, isn’t it? Why give it so much power?
And just as your bad feelings, thoughts, words, and deeds are yours and yours alone, so it is true for everyone else. The bad or aggressive thing someone said or did to you has nothing to do with you; it came from that person! That darkness, that anger, that unhappiness is inside of that person! So really, how tragic for that individual that they have such misery inside of them!
When you can truly internalize that, you’ll never be affected by someone’s unkind words again. In fact, you’ll look upon that person with compassion and empathy. You’ll recognize how sad they are; how far from understanding they must be.
This is not to say that if someone is spewing negativity at you, you sit there and take it, please don’t misunderstand. Just don’t internalize those negative words. You can certainly define your boundaries and remove that negative person from your orbit.
This level of awareness is something you must practice. It’s a muscle you must build. It’s something I became aware of as a young girl growing up in an abusive environment; I understood that my abuser had a “dark spot on their heart” or so I used to tell myself as a young child. So, I guess you could say that I’ve been developing the muscle for over thirty years. And there were times in my life that I was in shape and times that I was out of shape.
Becoming a mother played a major role in solidifying my fitness, so to speak, because I had the opportunity to witness the genesis of life. When Olivia was born, I couldn’t help but think that she was truly perfect. That she was fearfully and wonderfully made.
And then it dawned on me that I began the same.
That I, too, was perfect.
That I, too, was fearfully and wonderfully made.
And everything that’s taken place in my life was no more than a smudge on the perfect being that is me and all I need to do is polish away those smudges. My core, my essence, my “I,” is still perfect.
And that is true of you too.
When that enlightenment occurs, you’re free from the judgement of others and free to actually be exactly who you are. Because who you are is perfect.
How Do I Polish Away the Smudges and Achieve this Freedom You Speak Of?
Outside of having a baby (ha!), I recommend turning off your phone, going outside and taking a long walk in nature. Be silent with yourself and your thoughts. Nature and wisdom are one in the same and I suspect that if you spend enough time with nature, nature will remind you that it really is so simple. If your mind is extremely busy and the smudges are thick, maybe you need daily walks, I don’t know. But do it in silence. No podcast, no music. Just go and be among the trees and the wild geese and as Mary Oliver so wisely put it, let them announce your place in the family of things. And be ready to listen.