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Monday, September 5, 2016

Name Yourself... Beyond the Labels of a Circumstantial Existence

Life is often characterized as a journey. It is an adventure that incorporates the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, rough patches and smooth paths, high places and depressions that are at times difficult to rise from.

The many challenges that will inevitably come our way demand of us a firm resolve to keep moving forward. In the absence of this resolve we tend to shrink and shrivel and fade into oblivion. 

The interplay of wisdom and folly is a dynamic that will be a constant in many of the steps that we take on this journey. The unique challenge that we will face is that of determining who we are, and who we must become in the face of the challenges that come our way. Ultimately we will face two critically important questions, each of which must be answered realistically if we are to successfully navigate our way through the journey to our destiny.

The first question we must face is... Who do others say that we are? As babies we are given names. These names express the subjective experiences and aspirations of those who parent us. These names become our legal labels. We sign them as a way of identifying ourselves to the world in which we live. They become our "mark" on the many documents that provide proof of our many transactions in this world. To get our attention others call out to us, and we answer in recognition of our given names. 

As we go through life we may acquire other names, words used informally to describe us beyond our given names. We call these "nicknames". Our struggles to navigate our way through the many difficult circumstances we face in life at times result in us acquiring nom de guerres... These are labels that describe our character as warriors. Some of the labels we acquire are not always flattering. Some nicknames honor us...  Some of them ridicule us. These added names talk about the impressions we make in the face of various circumstances. They tell us whether we strike others as heroes or villains, as Jokers or Scarfaces, as strong or weak, as truth-tellers or liars, as leaders or followers.

In life we sometimes come to be known by the fortunes and misfortunes that come our way. For better or worse some people will label us according to the various experiences that we fall into or that befall us. To be fortunate is one thing... we all desire to be known by the "good things" that happen to us, or that we happen upon. Not so with respect to the "bad things". The naming that is a function of the stigmatization that results from the unfavorable experiences we have had is at times ego-deflating to say the least.

The tendency to limit our perspective of other people's lives to our interpretation of the "bad things" that have been a part of their experience becomes a rather convenient practice. This is a rather easy thing to do especially for those who would like to direct attention away from the skeletons in their own closets. Whether we like it or not, there will be those who will insist that we are nothing more than what they conveniently think we are. It is in the face of this tendency that we must ask the second question: Who do you say that you are?

Beyond the names that we are given at birth, and beyond the nicknames that get heaped upon us by those who seek to define us by certain of our experiences and tendencies; we have a sacred responsibility to name ourselves. We do a disservice to ourselves, and we negate our personal integrity by living according to the transient wisdom and the follies of a circumstantial existence. There should come a time in our journey through this life when we stop and spend the energy necessary to address this most fundamental query... Who am I? Am I at ease with the name I have been given; with its many, sometimes subservient applications? Do I need to take a meaningful pause to identify and emphasize the me that I want to be?

With all due respect to the experiences and aspirations of my ancestors; and with appropriate regard for those who may, or may not wish me well... it ultimately is my responsibility to name myself. It is my solemn duty to reflect on all the experiences that have been a part of my life, with a view to determining who I must be on this my journey. In so doing I have the right to put the names I have been given in perspective, and to cultivate a me that will serve the demands of my chosen course through this life. 

Ultimately I cannot bequeath the responsibility to truly name myself to anyone but me. That, I believe, is what makes any talk about self-determination and personal responsibility meaningful.

To ask someone to take responsibility for your definition of their life is a rather tenuous proposal. It is a burden that we must ultimately desist from heaping upon anyone with the expectation that they must then unquestioningly live out our design for their life. And it is therefore a burden we must adamantly refuse to bear ourselves.

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