The Subjective Identity

The Existentialists say that we identify ourselves with subjective qualities (subjective, meaning up to interpretation), while the World identifies us with objective qualities (objective, meaning undeniably true). What this insinuates is, because I experience the World through only my own two eyes, I know when and how I change, and can be forgiving and understanding of myself in those changes of philosophy, opinion, and interactions; I see myself as being fluid, open to interpretation, and able to shift and change. I may call the 22 year old version of Britany to be a micro-manager, competitive, and concerned with self-success, and through life experiences (a date that went very poorly), meditation and reflection, education, and maturity, I may look at the current 29 year old version of Britany to be lackadaisical, non-competitive, and concerned with the success of all (and inevitably, because experiences change us, I may look at the 35 year old version of myself to be something completely different).

However, because the outside World does not always know those changes are occurring–because the changes are internal and intangible, unseen to the visual eye–the outside World sees me as a fixated, static being; if the World met the 22 year old version of Britany, the World may forever classify Britany as a micro-manager and competitive, and if the World met the 29 year old version of Britany, the World may classify Britany as lackadaisical and non-competitive, and it may be difficult for someone who knew the 22 year old Britany to see the 29 year old Britany (or vice-versa) but because the World is not always privy to the circumstances that have changed Britany, the World sees Britany as objective, static, flat, and unchanging. Britany IS a micromanager and competitive, or Britany IS lackadiasical and non-competitive.

I think recognizing the change and growth in ourselves is very healthy, especially when we recognize how we have stifled bad habits, re-routed negative thought patterns, identified our failings. And, I think not recognizing that this same change and growth occurs in other people as well could be potentially dangerous. If we see ourselves as changing beings, then should we not also see others as changing as well?

Often, we form our beliefs based on experiences. If you were to ask someone what the cutest breed of puppy in the world is, likely they would not respond with, “I watched Animal Planet, created a rubric, and determined that German Shepherd’s are the cutest puppies”, or, “I ran a poll on my InstaGram, gathered 1k responses, and concluded that St. Bernard puppies are the cutest”. Likely, what people will say is, “I grew up with Golden Retrievers, so I think those are the cutest puppies”. Obviously, this is a simplified, and relatively inconsequential example, but people based their beliefs on more higher-stakes issues, such as welfare, health care, education, on experience they’ve had. They, “had a neighbor on welfare, and this is what they think about food stamps”, or, their “son ended up in the emergency room, and this is what they think about medical bills”, or “they went to school one time, and this is what they think about the education system”.

One reason I value writing is that writing allows me to track my own intellectual and moral development. Because, when we write, we write for what we think is the truth of that time. I may write in my journal that, “August 10th 2004 was the best day of my life, because my high school crush looked at me”–and on that particular day, this being the best day of my life was TRUTH. Or, I may write that on, “February 28th 2009, I am certain that I will never work retail ever again”–because on February 28th, I believed that was truth. Or, I may write that, “on December 8th 2019, I know St. Bernard puppies are the cutest puppies in the world”, because that is what I believe.

But then, my experiences could change. Maybe on August 11th 2004, my high school crush asked my best friend out, and him looking at me on August 10th 2004 was no longer the best day of my life. Maybe my horrendous retail job on February 28th 2009 offered me a large promotion, and I stayed in retail. Maybe on December 25th 2019, my boyfriend bought me a German Shepherd puppy for Christmas, and now I think THOSE are the cutest puppies.

If I know that my experiences change and alter my perceptions of the World, then should I not believe the same of other people?

I think growth and maturity can occur when we can separate the person from the title–whether that title be a defining personality trait, a developed belief in something, a dominating behavior–and when we can accept that experiences will change other people, too. They may appear to hold a staunch belief on the welfare system, and then they encounter a new neighbor, which gives them a new experience to refine an opinion. They may have been vocal about their opinions on the healthcare system, and then their child becomes a nurse, and those strong opinions are now softened. They may have had one experience with the educational system, and their child has a completely different experience, and their perceptions could change, and they no longer have those same beliefs.

So as we go forth into this holiday season, and we find ourselves in those conversations regarding politics, religion, puppies, we must remind ourselves that, while we are never the same person we go to bed as when we woke up in the morning, the same is true about everyone else around us.

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