It’s easy to say you are a product of circumstance, and it’s easy to define yourself according to your past. My parents did this, and I responded this way; my school taught me this, and I responded like that, etc.
It’s easy to define yourself by what created you. We are so immersed in our culture and constantly submerged in a whirlwind of conflicting belief systems, patchwork morality and second-hand ideologies, it is impossible to escape the consequences.
As inevitably impressionable human beings, we are all, to an extent, products of our tangled circumstances. That which produces us, however, is not what characterizes us.
It’s time to challenge the instinct to define ourselves by our circumstances. Instead, let a new self-perception surge forth: It is not our creators that define us, but what we create.
It may seem strange, but it’s profoundly important. After all, how else can we possibly take charge of our own lives, stand up, free the reigns from life’s clutches and shout, “I am whom I choose to be"?
By the same token, it’s easy to think, “I’m a good person” without really questioning it. After all, we’re all justified in our own eyes; we tend to be nice to our friends, nice to strangers and passive aggressive to people who irritate us.
We usually don’t plot other people’s demises, conspire for murder, plunder others’ belongings, etc. Many Generation-Y people assume “I’m a good person” because they don’t murder or steal, when in reality, there’s a whole lot more to morality.
If we want to work on ourselves, it’s important to look not at whom we think we are, but what effect we have on other people. As a culture, we are somewhat blind to our own selves. Instead, we criticize others for the actions they take without assuming responsibility for our own.
Prejudice produces oppositional prejudice, isolation creates reflexive self-segregation and false superiority generates hierarchy. What's the side effect of all this social fracturing? Many people find themselves in a specific social location and blame whatever got them there.
In blaming the pattern, we simultaneously succumb to it. It’s only when we decide to take responsibility not for what surrounds us, but for what we produce around us, that we genuinely triumph over circumstance.
Take, for example, the “man-hating” interpretation of feminism. In a very crude nutshell, women got pushed around, and then they hated the people who did it. That hatred produced the opposite, but equal, response: degrade men who originally degraded women.
The problem is that “man-hating” doesn’t transcend the social boundaries; it only reinforces them. In remaining locked within the previously established confines, “man-hating” women tried only turning the tables, as opposed to changing them completely.
Instead of merely adapting, try creating. This means starting from the bottom, with yourself. Michael Jackson put it beautifully when he said, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”
I’m not talking about material creation like money, crafts, cookies or whatever else people create. I’m talking about atmosphere and character. Do you generate happiness, trust and hope by being a supportive, loyal and encouraging person -- and not just to your friends?
Or do you generate resentment, antipathy and competition, by being prejudiced, shallow and mean? In short, do you create your own character and use it to put good into the world?
I’m not asking because I want to tell you that “if you put good into the world, the world will be good to you.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true, and I wouldn’t care if it were.
I’m asking because I want you to really evaluate yourself; are you someone who puts good into the world, even if the world doesn’t bring it back?
Self-reflection isn’t about what your life looks like, it’s about how you create yourself. What do you do with the life you were given?
If you came from unfortunate circumstances, did you pout and blame the world, or did you change them? If you came from favorable circumstances, did you sit back and thank whoever was responsible, or did you take advantage of them and use your opportunities?
Did you take action? Ultimately, if you want to define yourself, it’s not about who defined you first, it’s about what you did after that. How did you make yourself? It all starts with the man in the mirror and what you make of him.
We cannot give up on ourselves. We are strong; we are who we choose to become.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It