Aristotle wrote that “Man is by nature a social animal.” Similarly, poet John Donne wrote, that “No man is an island entire of itself.” And there is, indeed, truth that we are connected to others, living in social contexts daily. Often we do things for others or the approval of others. We are prone to seeking validation through connection and relationships from others. The opinions of others often influences us and guides or prevents us from doing or saying things we would not otherwise do.
And, so it is, that we go through life being praised, complimented, validated, criticized, and corrected by others. There are many other opinions of who we are as individuals, as persons. But what of our own views of self and who we really are? How many others, whether family, friends, or workmates do you feel really know, understand, accept, and appreciate you as you likely or truly are?
If you have seen the classic movie Citizen Kane, you may recall that the reporter Thompson collects different opinions about who the reclusive millionaire really or essentially was. He is left finally with many jigsaw-like pieces (that resemble Susan’s large puzzles) each of them possibly true and significant, incidentally. But it is left to the lonely, weary old protagonist himself to sum up the personal meaning of his life as he once desired, lived, and loved it. He confers the meaning of his entire life in one word–a name, a single image.
We are mostly conscious of what others think and say about us, and what we say and think, often differently, about ourselves. The famous Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, concluded that, as individuals, we must answer for our own lives and find our own meanings through actions, values, suffering, and sacrifice. We each of us have the option of choosing and creating an “immortal footprint in the sands of time.”
And like Kane, we may have ‘the final say’, so to speak, in defining ourselves, the essence or significance of who we are, and the core personal, and perhaps privately understood, meanings of our own lives. Like him, we, too, may choose to confer the meanings of our own lives upon ourselves.
(previously published here August 24, 2012)