For centuries man has grappled with the riddle of what it means to be a person. But the questions…Who is man? and What is the meaning of life? are still unanswered. Yet, while man is still a long way from arriving at any acceptable definitions, there is deep within everyone the hint of an idea of what it means to be a whole person that is happy, functioning and fulfilled.
So, throughout history man has made a continuous search to find out what makes him whole. Every person is different so the special situation in which one person finds fulfillment can't work for everyone. But in the lives of those who have found fulfillment there is a universal pattern. The universal pattern is that those who have found fulfillment have had a willingness to accept change and take risks. Conversely, those who have not found wholeness are characterized by an unconquerable desire to be safe, to be out of danger and to avoid risk.
The first step in the search for identity is to answer the question, How do you see yourself? In the play No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre Estelle loses sight of her identity. She says "When I can't see myself, I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist. “What a man sees himself as in the mirror largely determines his actions during the day. Estelle had to look into the mirror of men to confirm her identity. A man is the number one determining factor in discovering who he is. Each individual must understand that he is responsible for his own pain, misery, unhappiness, or for his own joy. Man is not a product of what people have done or are now doing to us. Man has the power to become whatever he wants to be…to feel as much love or anger or joy as we want to feel. Another subsequent factor in determining our identity is the image, name or label given to us by society. In other words, what we believe other people think of us. Most people participate in many groups’ friends, school, family, jobs, clubs, churches and more each contributing to our identity. We have to accept the death of the superman who is alone needing no one, inner directed and indifferent to his surroundings. We see in Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment that when Raskolnkov separates himself from humanity by committing murders that he could not survive. A person needs to understand that they are responsible for their own choices but they cannot discount the fact that there will always be a group that is essential to understanding their identity.
There is a far more important area than how man sees himself or how society sees him. This area is where he has the most control over his own identity. The area in which he has most control over his own identity is in the area of what he is actually doing. In other words, man determines himself by the choices he makes. Having this freedom of choice entails commitment and responsibility. Since individuals are free to choose their own path they must accept the responsibility of following their commitment wherever it leads. In the play No Exit by Sartre the characters Estelle and Garcin thought of themselves as being nobler than what they were, when in reality the choices they made determined one to be a boy toy and the other to be a cruel coward.
The Bible also gives us some insight on this point. What made Moses Moses? The fact that he made the choices he did. If Moses had stayed in Pharaoh's court, if Moses had stayed in the desserts of Midian or if Moses had refused to go to Pharaoh, then he would not have been Moses. We have the freedom to choose and we become what we choose to do. Far too many people are locked into set patterns of thinking and living. People resist change vigorously satisfied with the dull normality of the same routines. One of the most vital ingredients to any fulfilling life is the ability to accept change and choose to risk. Change for most people does not always feel good but it is an important part in growing. Most people fear change because they are afraid of the risks that it will bring. When people do not conquer their fear all growth stops. The fear of growing of old is what kept Estelle from being more than mere a boy toy. The fear of dying kept Garcin from being a great pacifist journalist. If a Congressional Medal of Honor winner had not conquered his fear of death, to jump out of a trench to save his buddy, his friend would be dead. If Moses had not conquered his fear of losing a comfortable life, Israel would still be slaves to Egypt. If Columbus had not conquered his fear of falling off the earth, America would not have been settled. If my Dad had not conquered his fear of rejection, I would have never of been born. People need to look at their fear, consider all the options then move out and act boldly. People can stand outside their fear indefinitely and nothing will change. But everyone has within themselves the resources and the strengths to face and confront their fears and to become the whole person they want to become, they have to do it.
The questions WHO IS MAN? and WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? may never be answered in our lifetime. But people can begin to lead more fulfilling lives by understanding and applying three closely related principles. People must begin to see themselves as being their own self and not just a product of society. After people realize that they are their own self they must realize they are what they do. The final step in living more fulfilling lives is to be open to change and risk. Breaking from this paralyzing fear will allow people to realize life is a gift and they will try to live every day to the fullest.