“Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.”
Elastigirl, The Incredibles.
What if you are unsure of your identity? What if you feel as though you don’t know yourself enough to even have an identity to protect? The construct of identity often relates to a defining characteristic, or sometimes an experience- both of which are often showcased in phrases like: “She’s the super nice girl who doesn’t have a bad bone in her body” or “He’s the guy who’s travelled to 200 countries”. However, these “ideas” of identity are mostly built on a weak foundation. Identity isn’t an equation with a constant answer, it’s a colourful structure made out of Legos where pieces can be added, removed, and repositioned. Identity is fluid. This brings into question, who are you, really?
There are multiple different facets that shape your identity. Examples include your cultural background, upbringing, friends, education, and or experiences- all influencing the person that you were, are, and will become in the future. In that sense, most experiences will change a little piece of you. For example, say your personality was a dish, having new experiences would be like adding to the mix and making that dish of your personality just a little more flavourful. You may change, but there will always be a few ingredients that your dish would not be able to do without. This is what identity is to me, a few principles and beliefs that provide a basis for you to build upon with such things as your feelings towards your family, what you believe to be considered justice, and your views on what virtue is.
While your views may change over time, it is not something to be worried about as it is growth. If you were to nurture a plant and neglect the need to change its pot then the plant would be constricted and eventually its roots would break through. Never limit yourself to certain standards and definitely do not let others squeeze you into a pot that no longer fits.
David Hume, a philosopher, believes that there is no impression of the “self”. His theory states that the idea of a self involves bundling together a specific set of traits, memories and anything else you can think of that would give you an “identity”. The fact is, you will not possess the exact same bundle throughout your life. You change, your memories change, your opinions change and therefore there is no “one self”. You are an ever morphing individual, therefore trying to create a unified profile of yourself would be, in theory, impossible. For example, say you met a person about a year ago- that person would know you as the person with set A of traits. Today, you are no longer that person and your bundle of traits could be very different. This theory would conclude that the you from a year ago and the you now are two different ideas of the “self”.
Hume’s theory only solidifies that your identity never stays the same. More often than not, you look in the mirror and try to pinpoint exactly who you are when in reality you are searching for someone you once were; a fixed idea of yourself that you need to let go. Due to this, never be too hard on yourself if you feel like “the old you starts slipping away” nobody’s the same person at 25 as they are at 16.
There is another idea by John Locke who theorized that one’s identity is tied to one’s consciousness which could also be referenced to one’s memories. As long as you remember an experience you had from 10 years ago then the you that had said experience would be the same you now. While his theory may have some inconsistencies at its basis, how your memories relate to your identity is definitely something to ponder about. However, I do believe that new experiences change you as much as forgetting the old ones, if not, more. This is where, to me, Hume’s idea of the self seems more plausible.
Returning to the question of: Who are you? While I myself would not know the answer- there are some characteristics that are considered essential properties that you could look out for as a guide and build upon. Moreover- as mentioned so many times before- never feel obligated to confine yourself to a set idea of ‘the self’. This, I believe, would only lead to more uncertainty. Hold your head high, and in the wise words of Walt Disney, keep moving forward!
By: Diya Aisha