“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”
– Chuck Palahniuk / Fight Club
I’m sure you all know this quote. I’m going to guess you even read it in your best Tyler Durden voice. But have you ever asked someone, or better yet asked yourself, “Just who am I?”
Most likely, you’ll hear the typical. “I’m a father, a brother, a husband, a Christian, a Catholic” or whatever label you or others feel comfortable giving themselves. Maybe you might even get, or you have said, “I dunno.”
While it may be true that you are a brother, a father, a Christian, etc. are you not first yourself before any of those things?
I know what you’re thinking. “If these labels don’t make me… me… well then, just who the fuck am I?”
This question isn’t a philosophical question or even an intelligent question, in my opinion. For instance, I can ask, “what does the number 9 smell like?” It doesn’t make it a valid question or something worth considering because the answer is almost assuredly unknowable.
I think a better question to ask is, “what makes me who I am?” Or “What am I willing to tolerate or not tolerate from myself as well as others?”
Sadly, the more we seek to identify ourselves, the more fragile and unsure of who we have become. There may be an inverse correlation between asking the question and the ease with which we live our lives.
It seems that these questions could quickly be answered if you try to envision your life as an ongoing process. An ever-changing mosaic of experiences and philosophies, and not as a still life painting. We must learn to embrace our flowing sense of self, perpetually re-framing, re-thinking, and re-considering ourselves, our lives, and what we want to become.
For instance, if you asked yourself these same two questions 5, 10, 15, or 20 years ago, would you answer the same way? I should hope not.
Though out your life, you are continually being scarred by tragedy and triumphed by victory. Every one of your life’s trials leaves you with a new sense of self waiting to be born.
Conversely, claiming to know yourself exceptionally well, can also lend itself to fragility about one’s identity. To feel as if you know yourself so well that you are unwilling or unable to accept change leaves no room for growth.
In a sense, a man must be like a tree. He needs to be strong mentally, and have a solid base, or root of self if you will, so that he may sway in the breeze without breaking. He must also have a good sense of morality and what he deems acceptable for himself and what he is willing to tolerate. He must also be willing to examine new information and have new experiences to grow.
Our world exists in a state of constant flux. It is essential to understand that we are indeed part of an ever-changing world. A world that is as wonderful or awful as we allow it to be. The goal then is to access the potential good of ourselves and keep the parts of our identity that continue to serve us well while shedding those that don’t.
This process is called positive disintegration. Positive disintegration allows us to find a balance between extremes. From there, we can enter into a relationship with ourselves and commit to our personal evolution.
Although we can certainly make broad generalizations about ourselves by becoming familiar with our reactions and perspective gained through life experiences, we can never know precisely how we will react in any given situation.
So, is there any alternative way of getting to know oneself?
Yes, but for this, we must move beyond the mind and examine the history of men.
If we look to our past men, they have always seemed to reach their greatest potential in male-dominated or male-only peer groups: familial, religious, tribal, ethnic, or fraternal. The apparent sense of “us” versus “them” is a terrific motivator. We can see this carried on today in boys through team sports, which is nothing more than simulated combat.
For a man, having a male peer group is paramount in his development. A peer group can outline what is expected of a man in the group, and in clear-cut fashion, which will not be tolerated. Simultaneously, they give men a sense of purpose and “greater good” to work for.
Without these things, men may end up lost with little to no sense of self. They are left an empty vessel emotionally and mentally. This can lead to the many potential pitfalls of life, such as drug and alcohol abuse, and open them up mentally to those who exploit them for their own gain.
Men must learn to look inward and to those of importance to them to help answer the potential questions they have about their own identity and sense of self. These are the best ways for men to avoid becoming “the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”
J. M. Shoemaker
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