Essays · Life & Stuff · Think About It

How Does Meaning Influence Our Identity?

In today’s Identity Series essay, I’m going deep. Real deep. I aim to cover the following questions in both a philosophical, personal, and psychological manner:

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • How do our choices and beliefs influence one another and then contribute to our identity (who we are)?

Let’s dive in…

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a philosopher; I didn’t study philosophy so my understanding of the concepts that I go through may be rough, however, I’ve done my best and of course I’m using them for my own ideas and exploration of identity.*

 

Radical Freedom

The concept of Radical Freedom was suggested by Jean-Paul Satre, one of the big names in Existentialism (which we will go into later). In a nutshell, he argues that we are all free. We are free to make choices. Then our choices become who we are. Therefore, very simply put, we are the things we do.

We are free to make choices and our choices make us who we are.

With this in mind, we realise that our identity can come right down to our actions. Our choices on a daily basis. I find this to be quite comforting. If we are the things we do, we can quite easily reinvent our identity regularly by just doing different things.

What would make me a writer? Writing, right? That’s something I must actively do in order to categorise myself as a writer and identify with what that means.

A bad person does bad things.

A filmmaker makes films.

A fitness guru works on their fitness.

We are what we actively do. Simple, agreed.

 

Absurdism

Absurdism is a little more complicated. Absurdism is “in philosophy, ‘the Absurd’ refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.”

To simplify, we all search for meaning in our lives, but the conflict comes from the fact that the world is meaningless and random.

For example, a person sees the same robin on a tree every day. Their father passed away and they believe that the robin is a symbol of the father’s spirit or lingering presence. They come to this realisation and feel comforted by it. But then they never see the robin again.

The person sought meaning in the robin’s appearance. They then attached meaning to it. But then the world carried on despite their belief because, a robin is just a robin and its presence was random, not the father’s spirit.

This is discomforting. This is hard for many of us to agree with. This is because it is human nature to try to find meaning in our lives. To believe that something is more than random.

I am a big believer in signs and purpose and patterns. But I am also realistic in knowing that signs aren’t put there by the universe, necessarily; but instead, I see signs because I want to see them. This doesn’t mean that the signs aren’t “real” per se. Because they are real for me, which means they do exist in my reality.

All we have is our own perspective, perception, and beliefs. Our reality is made up of what we believe in and how we choose to view the world.

So, is there real meaning in the world or meaning to our lives that are already set for us prior to our birth? Probably not, at least not according to Absurdism. But that doesn’t stop us as from seeking meaning and actually finding it for ourselves, our own needs, and our own lives.

I think that this is why many people love religion. They want to believe in something higher than themselves. To believe in a force, a God, or a pattern that is laid out for them, taking care of them, and means something more than what is.

We need to believe in things because the alternative is just too bleak at times.

So, in terms of identity, I think that who we are can directly correlate to our beliefs about meaning. What we tie meaning to, whether we believe in meaning at all, and if we give into the chaos or not.

Bringing it back to Freedom, if we are free to make choices and these choices determine who we are, that is a little daunting but also freeing. It means there’s nothing you’re meant to do, which can leave you feeling lost. But it also means you can do and be anything, which sounds great.

If we attach to the concept of The Absurd, then we realise that nothing actually matters. In Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus, his conclusion to The Absurd is simple: Face the fact of the meaningless and absurd, but continue doing what you’re doing anyway. Keep rolling the boulder up the hill, even though you know it will roll back down again. Know the truth, but don’t let it destroy you.

What you decide to do with meaning will determine how you live your life and who you become. Distract yourself from the truth and you can feel lost or disappointed. End your life and, of course, there is no life. But rebellion, living despite the truth, is the strongest and best approach.

Use your freedom to choose to be who you want to be. Embrace and understand the absurdity, but use it to your advantage, not disadvantage. And find meaning where you can, but do not tie yourself too tightly to it; for as we’ve learned,  meaning can so easily be taken from us. Those who do attach to meaning may be the ones who fall more easily.

 

Existentialism

Finally, Existentialism! Existentialism is “a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”

Existentialism is, I think, an umbrella concept that ties in parts of the others that I’ve already mentioned. I sort of see myself as an amateur existentialist because I think that yes, we are all free, and our choices dictate who we are and that only we can find meaning in our lives.

But through everything that has already been said, what part does meaning play in our lives and our identity?

Meaning is everything to us as thinking feeling beings. We need to know why we do what we do. Why we feel and think the things we do. And each of these are a sign of who we are, and a guide for what we do.

If I find meaning in my life from my loved ones and the lives I influence, then that guides my decisions. I won’t actively hurt people because of this. I will always try to help and understand people. I won’t ever be alone, not by choice. These things are choices, guides, beliefs, and who I am to my core.

I wasn’t born this way, but I’ve had the freedom to choose to become this way.

Every choice in my life has led to this and it all comes from a strong meaning I’ve found for myself.

 

Nihilism

Lastly, and quickly, there is Nihilism. This is the most depressing concept for it is “Most commonly presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.”

Similar to the others, but this one is much more negative. It rejects all pursuits of meaning and purpose. That life doesn’t matter because nothing in it matters at all. Deeper still, it suggests that nothing in the world even truly exists.

I reject this concept.

The world is complicated. People are complicated. I think things exist, and they don’t. I think we have purpose and meaning, and we don’t. The only real truth that I have, in regards to all the concepts explored here, is that we can choose (Radical Freedom) to live meaninglessly, or we can choose to believe in something.

All we are is our choices, now that I do believe.

 

My Advice & Final Thoughts

Meaning can be found, and is appropriately placed, in our relationships with others. Do good and be good for others. Help to improve their lives in whatever way you can.

Life can be random and chaotic, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? It means that the poor boy can become a millionaire through the random pickings of a lottery. It means a girl can find a newspaper on the floor advertising a job she didn’t even know she wanted. Randomness can be a comfort for those who feel lost.

Life gives and it takes. Things change. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder because we all see the world differently. And it is our choice to see it that way.

 

So, let’s answer our questions quickly:

  • What is the meaning of life? To find meaning in our lives.
  • Why do we do what we do? What we believe in, and where our meaning lies, will determine the choices we make.
  • How do our choices and beliefs influence one another and contribute to our identity (who we are)? We become the things that we do. We are all free to make choices, and those choices become our reality. Who we are is defined by our choices and beliefs. If we choose to attach meaning to something, that will shape our reality and keep feeding into who we are. If we believe in something, that will influence our decisions, our relationships, and our perspective of the world.

And so, if you want to know who you are; if you want some keen insights into your identity, then look closely at the choices you make, why you make them, and where you place or look for meaning in your life.

 

 

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