Self-definition is one of those things that is common to all human beings. We learn who we are by watching the environment around us and learning from it as something “outside” of us, an object.
We all go through some process of self-definition –even when it might not be obvious for some reason–, very early in our lives, and we repeat the same process many times during our lifetime. In the words of Ken Lauren Burns: “We are a people starved for self-definition”.
However, to find our true identity we must go through a “negation process”, a process through which we find out who we are by determining what we are not (i.e; I know I’m not you because you are not me), and through this negation of “everything else” we are supposed to determine ourselves, our identity as somebody who is not part of the “everything else”, what we call the Ego (Greek word for I) .
As I said before, this process will repeat several times during our lifetime, and through it we are able to determine, in time, who is me, who is us and who is them.
So far, so good. I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself the same question that any deep-thinking philosopher would ask him/herself “what do I care?”.
Well, if you haven’t gone through any self-destructing, self-alienating process, maybe you got nothing to worry about; but, just maybe, you have found yourself tempted to think that your belief is somehow the only valid one and that those who think otherwise are just plain wrong. Maybe you’ve been tempted to believe that your religious, political and moral stands are the right path and, of course, any other way is wrong.
If at the end of the day you still don’t think you’ve done any of this, I can assure you that you know, have seen or have heard of somebody who fits this profile.
Once again, this is the negative side of the self-definition process, where “what is foreign to me is denied“, therefore my identity involves the denial of the other. “Where does this happen?” you might ask. I’ll give you a couple examples: Republicans vs Democrats, Liberals vs Conservatives, if you’re in the US, and if you’re in Venezuela, Officialism vs. Opposition [insert your own example here, I know you can find at least one]…
In all these situations, the reaffirmation of self involves the denial of the other as the “opposite” of what “I am and stand for”.
However as Alice (the name “Alice” comes from the Greek word Alethôs meaning “Truth”), from “Alice in Wonderland”, taught us long ago, reality is a snapshot in the stream of facts that happen all around us. Put simply, we only know what we know and don’t know what we don’t know, hence self-definition is or should be constantly challenged by the continual discovery of new facts in this stream called life.
If we allow ourselves to be challenged by others’ set of beliefs, may they be cultural, political, moral, etc. and get off of our high horse, we might just discover that self-definition, instead of denial, is actually a process of acceptance of the other. It’s not just a matter of denying the right of those who don’t agree or even oppose our own set of beliefs; it’s a matter of self-questioning and testing our own perceptions of reality with those incongruous perceptions around us, understanding, like Alice did, that the truth is much deeper and diverse than meets the eye.