When I meet someone new, I like to ask, “Who are you?”
Most people provide their occupation as an answer, which is perfectly alright. Others share different aspects of their life that are important to their identity (e.g. if they are parents, their hobbies, something they are proud of). I especially enjoy those replies.
Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What makes you you?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘What gives a person value?’
However, a small number look at me in a weird, somewhat offended way, as if I have asked a deeply personal question on our first encounter.
I’ll phrase this week’s question somewhat differently. Either abstractly or in a real practical sense what makes you you?
Related questions: How important is the repetition in our lives? How much of our thoughts are our own? What are our responsibilities to others?
4 thoughts on “What Makes You You?”
There are many things that make us who we are. Here are a handful:
— Our genes influence our health; as do the actions you take now.
— Our early childhood experiences impact our brain development.
— I believe our teen and young adulthood years often solidify our orientation to what we think matters in the world — sometimes drawing us closer to our upbringing or reacting against it.
— Our hobbies, I think, often get defined by some of our early experiences of wonder. I, for example, love gardening because some of my early memories are of my parents (and I) combing through seed catalogs and of two large gardens feeding our family when money was in short supply. And tell me, how can you not find wonder in a squash plant stretching multiple feet and producing so much fruit when it came from a seed the size of your fingernail!
— I also believe that part of what makes me me are the challenges I’ve faced in life. My vocation to fight poverty, for example, developed because I grew up knowing want:
+++ During the coldest times of winter, ice formed on the walls and floors of our shoddy trailer home with additions tacked on because we needed to conserve on fuel for the furnace and wood for our wood stove in order to make it through the season.
+++ Sometimes our water pipes would freeze for weeks at a time. We had to drag sleds down to the barn (about a city block away) to load buckets with water for bathing and drinking.
+++ Transportation was constantly an issue. Our old cars were always breaking down. This is a problem if you live a 10 mile drive to the closest town and a 45 minute drive from where your dad works.
+++ And my family’s poverty almost kept me from thinking college would ever be possible.
— I am also quite aware that part of what makes me me come from the privileges afforded me by accident of birth. I am a straight, white, American male. There’s also a lot of injustices I’ve never had to deal with, address, or overcome simply because this.
— Lastly, at least for my list, part of makes me me is the home life my wife and I have created for ourselves. Home is a place of peace, love, and beauty, a place where our pastimes are honored, and a place where my wife and I support each other in so many ways.
Like Michael, and I suspect all of us, what makes me me starts with my genes and early childhood experiences.
My grandfather was Finnish and grandmother a plump Finnish Swede. I inherited from her “a tendency to run to fat”, as Mummo would say, but without any of the problems that usually accompany a heavier frame i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure.
I also inherited asthma from my grandfather which shaped my early childhood as I was frequently hospitalized with lung problems as a small child (one of my earliest memories is having to sleep in an oxygen tent). As a result I learned to treasure the limited opportunities I had to spend outdoors.
My love of gardening comes from my grandparents as well, who were potato farmers. It was reinforced my my father, who was a hydroponic gardener and raised our own meat and by a neighbor who had a large garden and allowed me to help with it.
What makes me me also comes from the tragic early death of my father in a scuba diving accident (I still don’t like swimming). My mother’s remarriage to a wonderful man, who was firm, but loving and kind, helped shape me further.
In my early teens I developed depression, anxiety and PTSD after being sexually assaulted. The rapist was never held accountable for what he did to me. This made it a struggle to complete high school, though I did, and went on to extended education in early childhood development.
At the age of 20, I married my best friend. His loving, optimistic nature helped me through the many difficult moments. We have built a home and life of mutual love and respect. We have three beautiful sons who we have raised to be caring and respectful to all.
Lastly, my relationship with God has given me a sense of peace and purpose and has shaped me into a tolerant, compassionate individual.
I also believe my childhood and the choices of employment, have contrtributed to who I am.
~My father was alcholic. My mother battled cancer for most of the years I remember. She passed away when I was fourteen.
~Durring that time I was shipped around from aunts, to grandma, and back. We had a woman who was slightly mentaly challanged, live with us for a time. She cleaned house and babysat my younger sister and I until I was old enough to do it myself.
~I had horrable migraine headaches and was quite depressed as a kid.
~When my mom was on her last days, I met Dave. I felt loved for the first time in a long time.
~I married Dave as soon as I turned eighteen. We began a long mariage filled with childern, and many challanges. Everything the mariage vows promise ” For richer or poorer, in sickness, and health.”
~I`ve worked as a nursing asst. and with both mentaly and physicaly challanged childen and adults.
~I am bi-polar and have a anxiety disorder.
So who is Cori? I am a empathic, compassionate woman, who is a care giver by nature. I take great joy in treating others the way I would like to be treated. I love my life with my husband of thirty eight years, no matter what life throws at us, because I am part of a team.
I agree with everything in the other comments, but I kind-of think of it from a different angle:
What makes me “me” is the sum total of my memories plus the physical form I was born with. Since new memories are always being formed, the “me” of today is not at all the “me” of age 16. My consciousness seems the same, but to be honest, psychologically I am completely different. I would recognize the teenage “me” only physically were I to meet her today.
I’ve seen discussion of continuity of memory that I find interesting. Per the above, is the “me” of yesterday the same as the “me” of today? Very nearly exactly, I’d say , even though continuity was broken during sleep (though I’d say it is not broken because your dreams are also built from your memories) or unconsciousness (which is a bit harder to grapple with). But the further back you go, the less this is true. This is like the physical “you” which doesn’t have a single cell in it that you were born with. Or the axe your grandparent gave you: you replace the blade… Is it still the same axe? Then you replace the handle. Is it still your grandparent’s axe? To me, at that point it is not. But it’s not the same for a body… All those replacement cells have the same DNA as the ones at birth (with subtle changes in telomeres and mutations and gene expression).
This is why senility and Alzheimer’s are the horrors that they are. When your memories are gone, you are not you any more. You’re certainly still a person, but not the one who grew and changed over time. With senility, the person tends to retain older memories, so you then revert to 20-something “you” or teenage “you,” who is not at all the same as former elderly “you.”
(Sorry if this is a mish-mosh of ideas… I don’t have time to formally write it, clarify, edit, hone… But wanted to get the ideas out since I find the topic fascinating.)