The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

College markets itself as a formative place, the site in which we will undergo that amorphous process of self-discovery. It promises us that we will find ourselves on its quads or in its lecture halls.

Identification — the ways in which we self-name and construct the narrative of our being — is fluid and open to our own direction.

And there are so many markers of identity to choose from. Personality tests abound, promising to discover if we are introverted or extroverted, thinkers or feelers.

We can graft ourselves onto any number of identifying groups (ranging from racial to socio-geographic to religious, familial, gendered, functionary, professional — the list goes on).

Even the medical establishment attempts to coral us into pastures of health and sickness, to divide out the normal from the neurotic.

Yet no one explains just how we go about uncovering our essential identities. Perhaps we are meant to complete a Herculean set of tasks — kill the many-headed hydra, sanitize the Augean stables, hold for a moment the world on our shoulders. Self as heroic quest.

Or perhaps we are meant to hunt as the archaeologist among the ruins and refuse of our past to reconstruct a vision of who we are. Pieces of a guitar, mounds of lentils. Self as diorama.

Or should we instead cease the hunt?

Perhaps, we are closer to the geyser. The chaos of our being waits just beneath the surface, fermenting and waiting to erupt — not when asked, but when the earth’s crust can no longer hold. Self as the deep reservoir.

All of these methods have their merits. But they all seem like such projects.

Again and again, I run aground on the issue of consistency.

To be a unitary and stable Self (proper noun intended) requires coherence, both internally and externally. It is hard work to remain the same as your context changes.

In different moments of my life, I have felt myself extroverted, gregarious even. And at others, I settle into myself and relish solitude ­— the anonymity to be found reading in a coffee shop or driving with the windows down and the blues swelling from car speakers.

And so, lately, I have toyed with a new concept of individuality. One less concerned with this all-powerful ‘I.’ One a bit more loose and free to flutter about on the laundry line.

Instead of thinking of the self as a fortress, secure behind its moat, I like to think of myself as permeable, open to the world, effecting and being effected in turn by my surroundings.

One writer put it thusly: The individual acts as a selective membrane, choosing which of its experiences and external stimuli to accept into itself and which to reject, to cast aside.

We become agents of our own self-production. Self, then, as a sort of osmosis.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.