One of the concepts that I'm currently fascinated by is identity. In other words, what makes me... me?
Or, perhaps more accurately, a better question would be, "How did I become who I currently am?"
Naturally (since I'm supposed to be a writer and whatnot) this is a question that I tried to explore through my writing, and while I certainly didn't arrive at any answers, I hopefully took the first steps in that direction.
What is identity? How is it achieved? Can it be changed?
My first answer would be experience. I believe our identity is constructed, at least in part, as the sum total of our life's experience. At the high school where I teach we hold an annual "Parade of Champions". It's a nice idea to honor the various achievements of students at the end of the academic year, but when the parade arrives I always (only half-jokingly) ask the students why they're champions. What did they win? Everybody wants to be a "winner" but you can't just claim the moniker because it makes you feel good. At some point you would actually have to win something. So we are, at least in part, defined by our past. It's the old adage that "Life is a journey". That journey is our experience.
But experience alone isn't enough to define identity. It removes any sense of responsibility. It turns into the rote "Nature vs. Nurture" argument which I find terribly boring and insufficient. We weren't placed on a set of rails at birth (either by DNA or upbringing) and now we're destined (or doomed) to live out the experiences in front of us. We are active participants in our life -- not passengers along for the ride. So identity is also created by choice. I gladly concede that DNA and upbringing can make some choices easier or harder for an individual, but my point is that it's STILL a choice. In other words, we are who we choose to be. Go back to our "Life is a journey" philosophy. If I choose to go west to Philadelphia, my life's journey will look very different than if I chose to head east for the shore.
But is that enough? Can we define identity by experience and choice? I don't think so. If experience represents our past and choice is symbolic of our future, I think the third part of identity -- the present -- is defined by our relationships. It's not just about where we choose to go, or what we experience on our journey . . . it's about WHO we choose to walk with on the way. Those other people (good and bad) become part of our identity. They influence our choices. They shape our experiences. They make us who we are.
And I'm once again (sadly enough) reminded of the lines by John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."