TUESDAY, 29 JUNE 2004
It is my birthday for another 29 minutes, so I believe it’s permissible to send more useful, yet unverifiable statistics up in the air: Nine-nine percent of the world population function because they have accepted, mostly uncritically, their Given Selves, and only develop distinguishing identity from the given possibilities and with options directly related to a specific time and place. One percent of the world population, on the other hand, confront their Given Selves, accept what they cannot change (such as that the person was born in Pretoria in the Republic of South Africa on Tuesday, 29 June 1971) regardless of whether or not they would have preferred it otherwise, and then focus on a Process of Defining Their Selves that will always remain within a particular framework (I cannot become a dog even if I want to), but would nevertheless result in an outcome where the person will be able to announce that he has become his “own” man or that she has become her “own” woman – a poetic concept more than it is technically true.
So, what am I?
The beginning: I am a man, born in South Africa, the son of Afrikaans-speaking parents who are descendants of mostly European small farmers, soldiers, servants and artisans who had arrived in South Africa a few centuries ago; I grew up within a particular cultural setting, with particular notions of good and evil, and particular ideas about what you should do with your life, how one ought to live, where, and with whom. This is my GIVEN Self.
The story continues: At age 33, I am this Given Self who have made myself at home in Kaohsiung, a city on the south-western coast of Taiwan, who earns an income and thereby sustain myself through teaching English classes at a few local schools. I live alone in a three bedroom apartment in a neighbourhood full of Chinese civil war veterans and their descendants. Sometimes I speak as much Chinese as Afrikaans or English on any given day, I use a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation, and I spend most of my productive time writing. These things are all representative of my CHOSEN Self – constructed on the foundation of my Given Self, and remaining within the limited possibilities of time and place.
This is me, at 23:47 on the night of Tuesday, 29 June 2004.
WEDNESDAY, 30 JUNE 2004
This matter of CHOSEN versus GIVEN self will stimulate interest among the one percent who have already gone through a conscious and active process of self-confrontation and self-definition, and another fraction of people who “think about these things”, but for whom the process is still in a rudimentary stage.
(This process of self-confrontation and self-definition occurs on many levels. The difference in my own case is that I constantly make notes about it; I am therefore very aware of the process; I can also follow my own tracks back and thereby show others how one person – me – has arrived at a certain point.)
If Absolute Given Self – let’s define it as someone who uncritically views the source of their self, namely the environment in which they were born and formed, as more superior than any other source – is at one extreme of the spectrum, what is on the other end? It is to grow out of all you’ve been given as far as possible and to become as much as possible the product of your own process of self-definition? Is that what all of us should strive for?
Important as it may seem, I do not believe this should be the highest aspiration for any individual. What is more important – and I also expressed this view earlier, is the results of your life. Both (Mainly) Given Self and (To a Large Extent) Chosen Self are means to this end.
In some cases, the person-model “given” to an individual is sufficient to achieve positive results. In other cases, the person must go beyond the given model. Why so? Possibly for no other reason than because the person is or was either NOT HAPPY or NOT SATISFIED with their GIVEN SELF!
However, both self-models aim to enable the person to function in the first place, and in the second place to produce (hopefully positive) results of their lives.
* * *
QUESTION: What is the difference between those who are unsure of themselves, and those who are (apparently) not saddled with this type of personal dilemma?
ANSWER: In both cases, the person looks at who they are as a given – gender, appearance, socio-economic background, aptitudes, intelligence and other genetic factors, and particular relationships that determine who and what they are without them having had a choice about it; that is, all the factors that were given to them by chance without them having had a choice about it. Choices that were made over the years do, as a matter of course, contribute to the who-and-what the person is confronted with in their Great Existential Moment, but even choices are always relative to the given factors. (It is necessary to note that positive choices in a context where a negative choice could have been made easily enough, are always to the credit of the person who made the choice, regardless of the positive given factors that increased the probability of a positive choice.)
A person who finds herself in the “sure-of-herself” category, is to a significant degree satisfied with who and what she is, and probably wants to continue to be who and what she is. This person’s confrontation with herself was, and still is, a predominantly positive experience. This person can continue to function as a relatively satisfied who-and-what.
Someone in the “unsure-of-himself” category, goes through a period characterized by a so-called identity crisis – uncertainty about who and what he is, uncertainty about his place in the world, and uncertainty about the value of his particular life. Feelings of alienation from his environment, discontent, and self-contempt are in many cases intertwined with these self-doubts. This person confronts his “given self” and regards it as NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
In better cases, this type of self-confrontation sets off a search for a more satisfying identity, for what will ultimately produce a more satisfying sense of self. However, many people experience this type of self-confrontation as painful and traumatic. These individuals do not always understand the reasons for their feelings of alienation. They easily misdiagnose their discontent as the result of personality flaws: “I don’t know why I’m always so negative about everything. There must be something wrong with me.” Eventually self-contempt intensifies discontentment just as much as it is a result thereof. Further alienation between the individual and significant others – family, even friends – is an almost inevitable consequence.
Thousands, even millions of lives are soured every day by misunderstanding regarding these phenomena. Many lives are also ended far too early and unnecessarily because of negative emotions that overwhelm the person to such an extent that he or she feels it can no longer be contained.
1. A further possibility is that you may be relatively satisfied with your given self, and satisfied with your given environment, but you want more of the good that you already have. The reasons for this may have to do with personal experiences that still leave you hungry, despite your relative satisfaction, for confirmation of your own value, or it may simply be driven by a sense of adventure.
2. There is certainly also the possibility that you are not even convinced of your given self, where even the data that is supposed to give you an indication is so fragmented and inconsistent that even a quest for who you are supposed to be, may take years.
* * *
Predominantly Given Self and To A Great Extent Chosen Self are both self-models that enable the person to function as an Individual Entity. Both self-models enable the person to make choices and to take certain actions that would eventually lead to certain results. A difference can be found between individual manifestations of these two types in the degree of satisfaction with regard to self-functioning, as well as in the quality of the results achieved.
A few days ago I considered myself a “1” and someone who functions as predominantly given self still a “0”, but I now declare that I am finally again a “1” – the same as the person who functions as predominantly given self.
What was I then, before – or in varying degrees since I left high school up to a point in the recent past? I was mostly a “0” for the simple reason that I had rejected so much of my given self that I found it difficult to function in the world where I was born and at the particular time when my life was supposed to play out.
I can thus again take my place in the “ordinary current of life” [as Dostoevsky wrote in Crime and Punishment] because my CHOSEN SELF (the result of the acceptance of given aspects that cannot be changed, plus self-definition, plus choices) is a viable alternative to what is good enough for a large percentage of the world population, that is, PREDOMINANTLY GIVEN SELF.
I now know who I am, because I defined it myself. I know what I am, because I have sorted it out myself. And I know where my place in the world is, because I have decided where it is.
(Is there a qualitative difference between my “1” and the average “1”? Possibly so, and possibly not. What is important, is that I changed my classification from “problematic functioning” to “satisfactory functioning”, not necessarily from “functional” to “better”.
Has the whole process been worthwhile if I am not better than the average? Of course, because I’m alive.)
* * *
[Highly satisfied with this new insight, I went ahead with its application in my own life. Please excuse any repetition.]
Starting plus-minus 1994 I did not have a functioning self; or, I did have a functioning self, but I was so filled with uncertainty (and anxiety as a result thereof) that I did not have a sustainable functioning self. The difference, in my case, between who-and-what-1994 and who-and-what-2004, is between “functioning self, but filled with anxiety and uncertainty, which means continued functioning can not be taken for granted” and “functioning self with confidence which means continued functioning is highly likely”.
Are my notes on this process relevant for anyone else – considering that it is so intimately connected with my own particular life and the factors that have made it what it is?
Partly because no one likes to waste time, I would surely want to respond positively. But I am not the only individual who did not (or does not) want to accept certain aspects of my given self. So, I believe that my meticulous notes, regarding a process that took me years to identify, have value for more people than just myself. Plus, if I bump my head one day and I must start afresh to get to know myself, it will naturally also be of value to myself again.