I find that as I grow older and move further from clearly defined lines of identity, when my roles and what was expected of me were clearly defined (like being a student etc.) I reflect more on the importance of being and becoming. I ask myself, as countless others have, who/what am I, and what influences that? I believe these questions were at the root of Foucault’s thoughts when he came to the conclusion that perhaps the answers to those questions were far less important than the choices one makes and who they become going forward in their life.
While I agree with Foucault that who you choose to be and who you become is important, I disagree that it is not necessary to know who/what you are. After all, how can we decide what we do not want to become, and change what we do not like about ourselves, when we do not know ourselves? How can we ‘be’ and ‘exist’ if we do not know what we stand for and value; if we have no shape or form? I argue that it is impossible. The human sense of ‘self’ intrinsically revolves around creating the borders of what you are and what you are not. What you believe in is bordered by what you do not believe in. As you search and live, discarding the predefined lines you were born with or saw surrounding the people around you, then, and only then, can you change. When we have tentatively defined those lines, replacing some things with others and rejecting some completely while redrawing some that did not exist, then do we become. I say tentatively because who we are evolves constantly, and as we learn more about ourselves and the world around us, we change our views of the world and (hopefully) grow.
In fact, one might ask, how do you know you are different from who you were in the beginning if you did not initially work out who and what you were? You may find in trying to avoid the work and effort to find out what you believe in and what you stand for, that you end up as pretty much the same person. There always needs to be a known baseline for meaningful change to occur, and for impact to be measurable. I do not deny that it takes effort and time and perhaps personal conflict to determine who we are. After all this baseline ‘me’ I refer to, who or what has determined who she is? Psychologists have spent time and countless studies researching the dilemma of nature versus nurture. Put simply, are we who we were born as – a product of our nature, genes and whatever mutations result in the variations of our brains and our DNA? Are we alternatively moulded into being by our environment, and the nurture of where and how we were raised? No matter which you are a proponent of, one cannot deny that both these factors have an effect on who we become and undoubtedly have a role to play in human development. Humans are as much social as biological beings and both these things will always contribute to our behaviour and how we see the world. I argue that despite nature and nurture, you do have a choice in who you are. Both, while providing some explanation on how we become who we are, cannot take away the very vital aspect of choice in becoming ourselves.
I am inclined to suspect that Foucault finds the quest of finding out who you are as quite tedious. I admit there is often a danger of becoming wrapped in the shackles of what you find as you search for self. Experiences from our past and from that of those around us often shape the lens through which we see our future. Often, we mistakenly think the boundaries that have shaped the lives of those around us bind us too. Many of us see ourselves in our histories and in the histories of our families and our people. In this then, I see Foucault’s hesitance to spend time finding out who we are, because of this potential to become ensnared in things we cannot alter – things that are the past. I posit, however, that since who ‘you’ are is a fluid concept, once you have defined and found yourself, you can begin the work of becoming who you desire. It is necessary to know who you are, but who you are is not necessarily who you find when you search. Trust yourself as a dynamic and constantly changing being, and do not fear to search because of what you might find. Who you choose to become is what is important, and it is what will become your legacy and true character.
Realizing this importance will give us the courage to break past who our history says we are and move past what our parents and even our genes say we are. Finding the edges of what we have been moulded into is what will give us the courage to break past our moulding and become whoever and whatever we choose to be.