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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Know I Exist But What Am I Doing Here?



Restless 
by Cecilia Borromeo
It is that perennial immateriality dwelling between living and dying
crouched in the corners and grappling by the hinges
only to remain unseen;
We weave our web of what we believe we understand
of the relationship of our acts and events
only to remain misunderstood;
From that odd wisp of steam of heated discussions
to the urgent hiss of a new page calling;
I teeter on that thin ice --
That single space of uncertainty --
And I ask
“What am I doing here?” 
Who am I and what the hell am I doing on planet Earth?

Is it any wonder humans have little clue to the purpose of their being? I believe most people consider their reason for existence; then, after experiencing futility finding a clear answer, they decide to leave their purpose to fate or to a higher power, hoping that somehow they make a difference. In my mind, too many people blindly exist and that is all.



Yep, I Do Exist

Cogito ergo sum is a philosophical proposition by Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician. The simple meaning of the Latin phrase is that if one is skeptical of existence, that is, in and of itself, proof that he does exist. Descartes (1596—1650) is regarded as the father of modern philosophy for defining this starting point for existence: “I think; therefore I am.”

The proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it was perceived to form a foundation for all knowledge. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception or mistake, the very act of doubting one's own existence arguably serves as proof of the reality of one's own existence, or at least of one's thought.

So, if I believe Descartes (And, I do.), I am real and capable of thinking. Still, the big question remains: "Who am I?" If I have difficulties knowing my own reason for existence, then maybe others can help with descriptions from their own perspectives.



Oh, You Think You Know Me?

But, how well does an individual really know someone else?

In a 1996 article, Dan McAdams, a professor at Northwestern University, asked the following perplexing question: "What do we know when we know a person? What does it take to know a person in a scientific way?" He believed "knowing" someone occurred on three levels. Here is a very simple description of McAdams categorization:

* Level 1 is a description of a person's broad, general traits, such as how shy, outgoing,  intelligent, or warm someone is.

* Level 2 provides a description of an individual's personal concerns -- descriptions of personal strivings, life tasks, strategies of defense and coping, and similar matters that involve the specific times, places, and endeavors of the person's life. 

* Level 3 is summarized in this rather problematic description:
"As one moves from Level 1 to Level 2, one moves from the psychology of the stranger to a more detailed and nuanced description of a flesh-and-blood, in-the-world person, striving to do things over time, situated in place and role, expressing herself or himself in and through strategies, tactics, plans, goals, and so on...So what is missing? The answer stems from the...mindset of...individuals [who] are expected to create selves that develop over time and that define who they are...what is missing is identity." 
Are you confused yet?  According McAdams, a person creates an identity through a process known as "selfing" -- composing one's personality and personal story by weaving together an overall self-definition.

(John D. Mayer. "Three Levels of Knowing a Person." Psychology Today. November 8, 2010)

So, does this mean that I am merely a "story" told by myself? That's it? At best, I create my own purpose for walking the earth that I "tell" others through some narrative self-definition I conjure, and, thus, I "become" just a second-hand biography? If that is so, I am pretty much just a nomad without firm direction and purpose who collects chapters of his "book" to provide others the only "me" that counts. The view of the objective and the subjective is blurred at best.

Drew Gilpin Faust, American historian and President of Harvard, once said ...

"We create ourselves out of the stories we tell about our lives, stories that impose purpose and meaning on experiences that often seem random and discontinuous. As we scrutinize our own past in the effort to explain ourselves to ourselves, we discover - or invent - consistent motivations, characteristic patterns, fundamental values, a sense of self. Fashioned out of memories, our stories become our identities."

 (Drew Gilpin Faust. "Living History." Harvard Magazine. 2003)

Then, if "our stories become our identities," as Faust professes, there is no difference between other  people's interpretations of myself and my true identity. I would assume that this view contends my self-image, self-esteem, and individuality depend upon how I forge my identity in this biographical work. I understand how every person is responsible for his or her own identity; however, I am clueless about how this relates to a higher purpose defining my existence.

At this point, I could say "God provides the direction, and all I have to do is give the reins to Him." I understand this philosophy, too. It speaks of essential faith and belief. In fact, I am able to do this quite frequently, but my id and my ego also fight this auto-pilot approach. "Let it be" is comfortable and reassuring, yet I still wonder about what I am doing with my life.

I hope to be more than the stories I tell and more than the conceptions others form of me. These things do not reveal the real me -- the soul that I possess. I also hope to be aware of my purpose instead of relying strictly upon faith to accomplish it. That's a pretty big order, huh? Let me tell you why I feel this way.

My life, like all others, has been a series of accomplishments and disappointments. I could now write my little book of identity. But, as I live my 63rd year, I feel the pressing need to do more and to find more ... more adventures, more discoveries, more production. I long to discover the purpose of my existence, and I believe I am still capable of adding to something somehow. It's difficult to do that when I can't seem to elevate myself to a purpose, a reason I feel is still in doubt.


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