No doubt someone in your lifetime has advised you to, “just be yourself,” and you have certainly heard the frequented cited aphorism, “to thine own self be true,” and, the admonition, “know thyself.” If you have ever been exposed to the so-called philosophy of existentialism you have seen the question of, “personal identity,” presented as some hand-wringing problem of how one ever determines, “who they really are.”
One should certainly be whoever they are, but what is wrong with all these admonitions is the assumption that an individual’s identity and, “who they really are,” is determine by something other than themselves—some identity they are born with or their environment and background have made them—which they must discover. But nothing determines who or what any individual human being is. Every individual is whoever and whatever they make of their own life.
Who You Are
In the “The Moral Nature” article I wrote:
“How a human being must live is also determined by human nature. Except for human beings, every creature behaves exactly as their nature requires because its nature also determines that behavior.
The unique nature of human beings does not provide them with any specific predetermine behavior.
The nature you are born with and the society in which you are raised does hot determine who you are.
What the nature you are born with and the environment in which you are raised provide you are the resources and raw materials out of which you make your own life. You must choose do discover and develop whatever physical abilities you have. You must choose to use whatever mental abilities you have to learn all you can, and think and make choices as well as you can. You must choose from all the cultural features available to you, from language to social relations, how to use them and decide which to make your own from standards of dress to the kind of work you choose to do.
No matter how limited the environment is in which you first develop, and the resources for your own development are, once you are able to read and explore the world, especially today, there is nothing you cannot learn or learn about. Within the limits of your own intellectual and physical ability, there is virtually nothing you cannot choose to do and be.
Whatever you choose to be is who you are and you will be a unique individual and there will never be another exactly like you. There will never be another with exactly the same interests, exactly the same abilities, who does exactly the same job exactly the same way, so long as all you know, think, choose and do you have learned, thought, and chosen using your own mind and best possible reason. That is who you are.
Who Should You Be?
You should be yourself, so long as you know, “yourself,” is who you have chosen to be and have made of yourself. Everything about you is determined by what you choose to think and do, and everything about you will reflect what you think, what you believe, what you value, and what you aspire to. From the way you dress to the way you stand, your behavior is determined by what you are. Your own sense of personal integrity will determine your entire demeanor, from the way you relate to others to how you do your business.
Do hot expect any of these things to happen automatically, however. If how you speak matters to you, because you have chosen to deal with others as rationally and objectively as possible, you will have to learn to speak well, and how to communicate what your thoughts are, clearly and interestingly. Those things do not happen just because you wish they would. You have to learn how to think, speak, and write clearly. You have to learn how to present yourself to others in a way that demonstrates who you are. You have to decide, what is important to you and how your speech, manner, and demeanor conform to your evaluation of yourself.
“But isn’t that like acting,” you might think. In a way it is, but it is not pretending to be what you are not, it is intentionally being what you choose to be. Freedom is doing and being whatever you, “choose,” not letting feelings, laziness, or impulse determine your behavior. When you have chosen how you want to live your life, including how you want to present yourself to the world, and have become so well practiced at behaving and speaking deliberately and by choice, not driven by feelings or whim, you will really be yourself.