(Written by: Tarunya Sivakumar, Edited by : Smriti Prakash)
Yesterday’s you, today’s you and tomorrow’s you are all still you. This is a truism that has irrevocably ingrained itself onto the fabric of human existence. We assume that ‘the self’ is rigid, constant and static. We are the embodiment of inertia. We resist change and fear it, despite knowing that it is inevitable. When we transform, our previous identity crumbles and we are often left in a confused, dazed state, asking the notorious question, who am I?
All these identity crises rise from the simple criminal case of changing identities. That’s an issue. Change is bad. We cannot change. It’s unnatural. Stay true to your roots. What has even gotten into you?
“You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing into you.”Heraclitus
On the contrary, identity is never uniform. It is fluid. This was a famous argument put forth by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. He advocated the notion that change was the only thing constant in the universe. Paradoxical? Yes, I know. Just as he did, let’s take the example of a river. We perceive a river as an entity that is always rooted in nature, forever flowing. It will always be there. It’s a permanent feature of the land and it is a quality of our earth. It cannot disappear overnight, or on a whim.
Yet, the river is constantly changing.
As the water pours incessantly, the rocks and twigs are constantly being displaced and moved. When you douse one foot in the water, remove it, and douse your foot again, you are stepping into a different bit of water. There is a perpetual weathering of the stones, erosion of the river-bed, and deposition of soil. The constituent components of the river changes with every unit of time, and hence, so does its definition. Following that train of thought, that river was never the same and will never be the same. Therefore, you can never step into the same river twice.
Place the metaphor of the river in a broader context. The river is analogous to the human character. Identity is malleable, perceptible to changes and largely, responsive to its environment. Along with our genes, we are defined by our choices, memories, opportunities, privileges and dumb luck. Every second, we experience something new. It doesn’t have to be anything profound. It could be just another sensation, recollection, inference or rewriting of neural connections. Just like how our brains are plastic, so is our identity. It’s versatile and undefinable. If you were to input your identity into a calculator, it would show “MATH ERROR.”
Okay, great. Why does this matter? The issue of identity is intricate and I feel that we confine ourselves to predefined images and constructs of how we were, and hence, how we should be. Yes, we are the same biological machine, but what makes us unique is how we perceive it. Actively or passively, our beliefs always change, and hence, so do we.
Cut yourself some slack. Remember, not only are you a living organism, but you are also a multifaceted abstract concept. Others may impose a plethora of definitions on you, but they are not you.
However, we adopt many definitions of ourselves by ourselves, as well. We put on different masks in different situations. This reflects Jungian philosophy, in the sense, that the mask we put on in front of society is known as the “Persona”, a spin-off of the literal masks worn in stage by Greek play-actors. The Persona essentially is “a kind of mask, designed on one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other, you conceal the true nature of the individual”. It is how you wish to be perceived by society, by others. Along with the Persona, you have the Self and the Shadow. While the Shadow is your dark side or personal inferiority complex or deficiency, the Self is your true self, the self that you are when you are alone and comfortable, away from the prying eyes of judgment. We adopt different identities in different environments.
At the end of the day, we are complicated beings. Want evidence? Try metathinking – thinking about thinking, so on and so forth. It’s what I do when I want to torture my brain cells. Take joy in that complexity. It’s something to be admired, not condemned. We change continually and that’s alright. After all, yesterday’s you, today’s you and tomorrow’s you are all aspects of you. Transience is what makes life worth living. The brevity of identity creates value. Immerse yourself in each identity that comes by you, say a hearty goodbye when it disappears, and wait patiently for the next one. Don’t go creating Horcruxes though.
After reading this, you might question: who is the real you then? A problem with the human race is our innate desire to impose an undisputed definition onto anything that enters our field of vision. We impulsively and involuntarily dictate the existence of every concept we come across. This mindset contributes to stagnation. Our reality is not objective. Reality doesn’t flow independently of consciousness. It only exists when someone or something interacts with it. In the same way, there is no fixed identity. It only exists when someone observes it.
“Once again, the world seems to be less about objects than about interactive relationships.”― Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons On Physics
Identity changes through different lenses. It is subjective. This conundrum is something posed by quantum mechanics as well. Reality and identity are what you make it out to be. A photon can be both a particle and a wave, depending on how you measure it. Schrodinger’s cat can be both alive and dead until you look at it. Just as they exist in superposition, we exist in superposition as well so do we. This doesn’t mean that one reality is true while the other is not. They are both true. Your identity is fluid until you forcefully measure it.
You might be the most double-sided person you know but those identities are still you. Change is normal and even precious.
Take refuge in that.