you are not what you do, and you are not you

There’s a belief floating around out in the world that urges us to stop defining ourselves by what we do, but I believe we need to stop defining ourselves by who we are.

In the book Siddhartha, one of the characters compares the self to a river.

Allow me to expand on this. Imagine you’re staring at a spot in a river, a sliver of the river if you will. If you’re lucky enough to border a river, go outside and pick a spot to stare at. In the imagined or real scenario, you’re witnessing an amazing thing. You’re witnessing something that is at once the same and different. Think about it, you’re staring at the same spot, on the same river; this location and identity doesn’t change. However, you’re also always seeing new water. The water that flowed by your stare five minutes ago is not the same water currently passing by and it will be new water five minutes from now.

This is how we are as humans. You are always you, but the definition of you is in constant flux. You’re experiencing new input and new data every nanosecond of your waking, and even slumbered, existence. Whether or not you’re conscious of everything that’s happening. Reading this is already changing you. It’s new input. Suppose you reject what I say, well now you are a you who has read and rejected Tyler’s view. No hard feelings. If you’ve previously read this same piece four times, the next time you read it will be your first fifth time reading it.

Many people you encounter will box you and label you, as you are likely to do to others. It’s natural. I can’t comprehend the amount of neural processing power it would require to retain conceptions of everyone I meet as deeply complex and nuanced as the ones I hold for myself. It would be a gift on one hand, but that kind of boundless empathy would probably paralyze you.

We might even box ourselves: confusing our memories, moments, or beliefs for who we are. For mistaking our yesterday selves for our today selves and our today selves for our tomorrow selves and our tomorrow selves for our five-years-from-now selves.

We are never done. We are never ending.

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