Many of the common dilemmas in the world today, call for an answer to a question that the philosophers and sages of old have been asking for millennia, ‘What does it mean to be human?’
I guess there is no simple answer. We, humans, are what we perceive ourselves to be, by which I mean three things: firstly, there is who we decide to be, then there is who we proclaim ourselves to be, and lastly, there is who we actually are in truth. These are the three responses we can have to ourselves and the incongruences between them can sometimes be vast.
Our self-conceptions are, in turn, replies to our life experiences, our preferences, our ideologies and the circumstances we face in our cultures. It’s important to note that how we perceive ourselves is not constant. How we see ourselves continuously shifts as we grow in awareness of ourselves over time.
The only way to tackle this question, ‘What does it mean to be human’ is to explore how we look at ourselves (and other people) within the social, cultural, financial, and political conditions of our lifetime.
Attempting to define what it means to be human is like trying to explain where time comes from. It’s only when we regard people as being rooted in their experiences – their cultural attitudes, their educations and beliefs, in pursuance of their goals – can the question ‘What does it mean to be human’ start to make sense.
Sadly, countless people journey throughout life, defining themselves in an unhelpful way that restricts them and extends limited opportunity to grow, increase and improve.
It’s important to note that our perception (of who we are and what we’re capable of) is like a surge in the ocean – its forever on the move.
Our perception of ourselves shifts as we become more grounded in an understanding of ourselves. This comes through the process of honest self-evaluation through our efforts to develop, grow and mature.
Some people define themselves by their roles and world responsibilities.
Some people define themselves by their faith, gender or sexual orientation.
Some people define themselves by their skills, talents, abilities and competencies.
Some people define themselves by their ideologies, religion or political stance.
While all of these things can fashion some aspects of our personality, defining ourselves in a way that is absolute and fixed leaves us limited room to evolve, develop and transform our perceptions regarding ourselves (which happens through the process of growing in maturity).
We can each use numerous of the millions of terms out there to ‘TRY’ and define ourselves, but in recent years I’ve personally found it far more peaceful to acknowledge that I ‘just simply’ am. That is all.
We’re each on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Yet, sometimes the most significant hindrances that restrict our progression in life are the unnecessary limitations we place on ourselves by defining ourselves in too small or limiting a way.
Be unhesitant to redefine yourself each day.
We must strive to unlearn the opinions that other people have of us and become prepared to accept no one else’s definition of who we are. We must each strive to decide who we are and what we’re willing to devote our lives to.
When we don’t take ownership of defining ourselves (for ourself and no-one else), we stand at risk of being pressured into becoming other people’s illusions of who they think that we are.
We can lose what we have, but we can never lose who we are.
We each must learn how to define ourselves accurately, as this is what will become our unique reference point for a balanced and consistent life.
“You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”– Eckhart Tolle
For your reflection: In what ways might you have historically undermined or restricted yourself through how you have defined yourself? What new knowledge would allow you to see yourself differently?