Have you ever thought of a question like why you are who you are?
Aside from the fundamental questions like “where we came from, why we are here, and where we will go,” “why there is anyone at all rather than nothing,” it is also a type of question we can never stop asking. At the same time, it seems impossible to find the answer unless and until we throw ourselves into a series of so-called “metanarratives” that we believe.
Why are you who you are?
To fathom this question, knowing it consists of two parts, we have to start the first one:
Who are you?
If we know the possible answer for this part (who), the second (why) answer could be a logical consequence.
Who are you? Perhaps, you are the father or mother of your family. You have your family members you have to protect and be responsible for in one way or another. That could be the mission of your life.
Or, you can think of your profession and expertise. People recognize your talents and contributions to society and culture. Your devotion to the field of the domain could be the mission of your life.
Or else, you can’t find anything special about who you are. You feel your life thus far is a series of failures. All your attempts have only disappointed you enough. You don’t expect anything in your life. You don’t feel anyone expects anything from you, either. Indulging yourself, you think you are in the middle of nowhere and nobody.
Writing this piece right now, I have found a tiny ant moving on the desk. Who is she? If I press her with my finger, her life will end up here right now. Does she ask herself the question like why she is who she is? I don’t think she does. But I do. I am thinking about her life on her behalf.
“Hello, Miss Ant, I know you are only one of the countless pieces here and now accidentally in front of me. Are you nobody, too?”
Under the desk, one dog is peacefully sitting nearby my feet. The dog is sleeping, yet the way she sleeps here and now implies her affection towards me as if she is my best, loyal friend. She is with me as long as we are in this world. Is that her mission in life? Again, I am thinking about her life on her behalf.
“Hello, Baby (her name), why are you who you are? What do you think of your life? I can see you are happy. Why are you happy? If you could understand human language, please tell me about your life, my life, and the life of that ant. Well, it seems you are already eloquent enough. I should not rely on human language to communicate with you, and perhaps with that Miss Ant.”
Unlike them, we humans need our unique sets of language. With them, we understand the world around us and the universe beyond us, and of course, our lives themselves. Without our languages, just like a newborn baby, all these things would be a mere phenomenon. Perhaps, we could feel and perceive them through our sensory neurons and associated instincts. And yet, nothing has gotten signified without any signifiers available.
However, unlike other animals and insects, we humans can’t survive without our unique sets of language. A newborn baby has to start learning them as the brain develops. But then, exchanging with such survival, the consequence is that we can no longer see the world, the universe, and our lives without the help of our languages.
Because of our languages, we can see the concept of time and space emerging in our consciousness. In the beginning, the canvas of the universe used to be blank. It was empty. As we add various brushstrokes, the blank canvas has transformed into the window for the world, the universe, and our lives.
A piece of paper is also blank in the beginning. You can draw or paint anything you like. In doing so, it will become the window of your life. To be more precise, you can “write” whatever you think of in this empty piece. You can create your poetry, prose, essay, novel, even thesis, and dissertation. Again, it will transform into the window of your life, too.
We are such symbol generators.
The result is a series of artworks. Ultimately, these are “grand stories” such “metanarratives” called myths, religions, histories, traditions, and theories. These are all means to describe and understand the world around us, the universe beyond us, and our lives. With such grand stories, we can start searching for the meaning of our lives. That is to say, the mission of your life.
How can we make our lives rich, valuable, and meaningful?
Let’s study all those various grand stories created throughout our human civilizations. Let’s live with some of them. While these are merely the symbols on a piece of blank paper or canvas, we should never get rid of them as they are like our “instincts” in the way that other creatures sustain their lives. There should be no such thing at the end of the grand stories. Our faith in them is so indispensable. Otherwise, we would fall into the abyss of relativism, nihilism, and narcissism.
Therefore, to live our lives fully, have faith in the grand stories, read them, write about them, and live with them, as one of the ardent symbol generators as if dogs and ants live their lives fully in their own ways.
Image by Andar Moon