Humans love to have a definite identity for themselves. We strive to get to know our own personalities, labeling our tendencies as confining adjectives; students who frequently fall behind in their responsibilities adopt the title of “procrastinator.” Similarly, one who historically struggled with meeting new people restricts him or herself to having an introverted temperament. Though such attributes receive widespread acceptance, well-intentioned people who accept these societal “boxes” and step into them with no hesitation diminish opportunities for growth.
Dilettante authors of self-help books and expert psychologists alike preach the concept of “figuring out who you are.” Encouraging the public to set ethical boundaries and define one’s identity, advocates of the doctrine aim for an unchanging character. Setting personal moral standards helps to steer one through complicated dilemmas. However, also known as “discovering yourself,” or “finding your true identity,” the seemingly beneficial notion generalizes the intricate journey of maturation into a misleading, money-making catchphrase. I may sound presumptuous, but most people follow the popular expression, strolling through life with a relatively clear idea of who they are. Whether it be through their physical appearance, the way they come across to strangers, or their perceived personality traits, people find comfort in possessing a tangible representation of their character. Yet, to craft a precise image of oneself inevitably results in falsehood; each individual constantly experiences growth beyond the bounds of language. Believers of the inspiring motto fail to recognize that figuring out who you are is an impossible task. As life presents ever-changing phases, aspiring to stay in only one of them inhibits growth.
In addition to the inaccuracy of the statement, it encourages a practice detrimental to the yearning for a compassionate world. We teach children never to “judge a book by its cover”; attentively, kids listen and strive to ignore misconceptions about their classmates. But perhaps the problem is the cover in the first place. Inaccurate, unreliable, and unfounded, labels that we place on others get denounced for misrepresenting each person’s individuality. Yet how can we preach the insufficiency of each other’s “covers,” while purposely creating our own?
Through our deliberate establishment of categories and self-made covers for ourselves, we strengthen the very structure we seek to abolish: judging others based on an incomplete, fragmentary representation.