Do animals reflect on who they are, and what they are doing here? Probably not. The question might arouse a mental image of a cow chewing grass obliviously. It’s not that animals, even the chimpanzee, the gorilla, orangutan, the dolphins and whales, but most especially your pet dog or cat aren’t extremely intelligent, because we know they are. But intelligence reaches a critical point, and, voila! We achieve self-awareness. We ask ourselves, whether we drop everything at the moment, or even continue with whatever it is we are doing at that moment (because we are driving in heavy traffic, or holding a baby or a hot pot of soup), “Who am I? What am I? How did I get here? If this world was made for me, if I am so special, then why haven’t I achieved greatness and the recognition I deserve?”
My answer is that, well, it all depends on who you are asking.
Identity crisis is merely the tip of an iceberg with foundations that reach deep in the misty darkness of time and consciousness. Even though our questions seem of the moment, really we all go through a lifelong struggle to reconcile social expectation with individual expression. The very signposts of personal growth must change from infancy to old age, or don’t bother asking at all. If you puzzle over your life’s meaning, then you’re probably accomplishing your purpose without even realizing it.
We want to be recognized by society, not for what it expects of us, but for what we believe to be our endearing attributes. On a sliding scale, perhaps on one end we think of ourselves as sexually exceptional specimens, with impeccable physical beauty, as I’m sure Kim Kardashian does. And on the other end we are selfless servants of society, with such a great connection to our spiritual foundation that poverty and obscurity pose no threat to our ego, like Mahatma Gandhi. It is natural to feel we have failed at life’s calling, whether our butt is still not as big as we had hoped (Kardashian), or not having yet liberated an entire country from colonial oppression (Gandhi). Expectations, they’re relative!
Speaking of relatives, some of us have experienced being infantilized by our family. That is, our parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and the people we grew up around still and always will treat us like little children, just as if we had never aged past nine years old. Even though we each grow older and wiser, there’s something about gathering together on the holidays at the dinner table that brings out the infantilizing riposte in my family. I could be the first man to walk on Mars, and my mother wouldn’t take my word for what’s happening in outer space: “Is that right, Jim?” she might turn to the opinion of my brother-in-law, who for some inexplicable reason would be endowed with greater knowledge than I, the only person to have walked on Mars. It’s humiliating, a real whack to the ego. All that work of being an astronaut and Mom still has to verify my professional opinion by asking my brother-in-law (a successful business man)!
I digress, but not too much. You see, we define our worth on the basis of the opinions and judgments of the wrong people—we can actually make ourselves sad and insecure because we are infantilizing ourselves! Sure, we are supposed to love our family. We don’t throw them away just because we have grown (and they haven’t). Just as civilization accumulates and becomes increasingly sophisticated over the millennia, it is possible we have exceeded the boundaries of the understanding of our ancestors in matters of who and where we are in this jigsaw puzzle of society. Better to just pass the potatoes, and let brother-in-law Jim expound on the rarified atmosphere of Mars, a place he has never been. Trust that the right people will comprehend our significance at the right time and at the right place.
Author’s Bio: Gregory G Lewis, is a psychologist, a social scientist, and a web programmer. He has learned more by watching the waves than from any book.