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Know Yourself

Sep 29, 2020

What does it mean to know yourself? Is it uncovering a unique set of views or ideas or beliefs that exist independently of any external influence? That is, is anything about me my own creation, or am I fully a product of the world I was born and raised in? And so, is it ever possible to fully know myself, or can I just figure out a set of preferences that were subconsciously formed at the intersection of people, culture, and community in my life?

Take “coolness” for example. I dressed in an attempt at the “preppy” style that was common in high school, partially to be adjacent to the idea of coolness, but partly because its association with coolness (and Vampire Weekend) made the aesthetic seem interesting. In college, I had the perception that rejecting my hometown offered some level of coolness (or I listened to [too much pop-punk]), so I started to explore streetwear a little bit more. By the end of college, I hung out with some of the people I thought were cool, realized that my clothes didn’t really play into that, and stopped caring about the way I dressed as much. My aesthetic preferences were and continue to be malleable, defined not in a vacuum, but a salad bowl of sorts.

Though let’s say I were to maintain the same style and taste regardless of a changing environment, would that say anything more about me as an individual? Wouldn’t I still be tying my beliefs to whoever influenced me to dress that way in the first place? And would my focus on maintaining the same style be a manifestation of something else?

As I see it, every preference, idea, belief, etc. is less of an individualistic preference and more of an alignment with a particular piece of one’s identity or community. One’s judgment and one’s beliefs are just expressions of a unique combination of those identities and communities that come together to create an individual.

Even this belief is a manifestation of my own identities. I come from a filial culture and I believe in a religion the preaches the inherent sameness of all people. I have a strong distaste for excessive individualism and a deep desire for feelings of community and belonging that makes me question any common Western platitudes centered on self-development (don’t get me started on “follow your passion”).

I have a cache of over a dozen half-written blog posts that I continuously fail to make any progress on. Ever since I wrote [that one about anxiety that some people liked], I’ve found it difficult to try and post about any ideas that aren’t super developed. As much as I’d like to be super free with what I share, I’m still bound by the chains of external validation— I want to write things that people will respond to, identify with. But this also makes sense: I’m the youngest child that has always sought guidance from my family for important decisions, on top of all of my other identities.

Yet, I don’t really care about the validation of strangers. Only a small subset of the people who read what I have to say matters me to me. Mentions matter more than likes and mentions by people I respect matter significantly more than anything else.

Perhaps this is where my individuality lies: not in my ability to strongly identify with certain principles or ideas or preferences, but my ability to decide which aspects of my identity and my communities matter to me. Getting to know myself isn’t solely a method of deep inquiry, but a form of collage, pasting different aspects into the frame through which I view the world. I choose to identify less with the tech part of my life and more with the creative. I choose to learn more about my Indian-ness and reject Westernness as the default. And I choose because there’s too many identifications and communities and ways of life around not to.