Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got. (Really?)

Did Sinead O’Connor reach the pinnacle of human existence where she truly does not want what she has not got, or is she just in self denial and living in holier-than-thou martyrdom? I suppose there is a possible middle ground, she is a total and complete sellout, writing something to tug at the heartstrings just to sell albums... :) Regardless, I don’t know ANYONE who doesn’t want SOMETHING that they don’t currently have. There is a reason lust and greed are two of the seven deadly sins, and ‘thou shalt not covet’ is in the 10 commandments. People have wanted things that they don’t possess for as long as there have been people.

I’m not talking just about physical desire/lust, though that is obviously one form of wanting. I’m talking about the basic premise of wanting. Wanting in and of itself isn’t bad. I want world peace – which is not a bad thing to want. But no one’s appetites stop at altruism (even mine), and what people want isn’t always materialistic. Wanting to be a leader in your community/church/office, wanting killer abs, wanting to screw around with that hot guy/girl you met at BlahLocation – we are a species born and raised to want what we have not got. And what we want is tied directly back to our self-identity (or identities).

I believe that there are two kinds of wanting. Routine desire for things you don’t have is pretty normal. The problem is when you take a look around your life and realize maybe all the things you’ve accomplished – while what you wanted at one point in your life – are no longer things you are interested in. Not just that you have the Audi A4 and really want the A8, but that you have the Audi A4 and instead want a Harley Davidson. This is a nice big highway billboard sign of impending identity crisis 50 miles ahead, do not miss, not for the squeamish or depressed, something you just don't want to miss.

So now the things you want out of life (family, freedom, career, possessions, etc) are so completely different from the things you have, you can’t figure out what to do about it. Do you give up everything you have and start over, or do you find the peppermint schnapps the Claus's didn't share with Rudy & Hermey and continue to live the life you previously bought into?

Ultimately though, wanting is still being driven by identity, not the reverse. And identity is so much more than just your social security number/name/credit rating. We display who we are to the outside world through our appearance, our belongings, our behavior. But the essence of who we are is something much harder to pin down, measure, or quantify - even to ourselves. In the words of the ancient Greeks:

Know thyself
The unexamined life is not worth living

But the road of self inquiry is not an easy one to navigate, and isn't necessarily a joy ride. Some get lost. Others turn back. Some run off the road into a ravine and perish. Some never leave home to begin with, preferring to stick with the comfortable routine they know than explore the unknown because change is scary and stressful. There is a significant amount of discomfort in realizing your life itches like an ill-fitting suit you’ve outgrown, and as you shed your old skin, the new you coming out is something else entirely.

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
~Anais Nin, "Winter of Artifice"

"All the world's a stage And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts"
~William Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

As a student of human nature, I find the whole topic of identity fascinating. But unlike Anais and William, I am not convinced that everyone needs to travel a lifelong path of self examination to change states, or to reconcile their various personas, or uncover some repressed or hidden true self. There are people who are so comfortable in their current skin that they are exactly who they appear - to everyone. Family, friends, strangers and co-workers all know one person, who knows themselves and most importantly is happy with who they are. I'm not sure if I actually know any of these people, but I'm sure they must exist. :) I think I need to do more international travel and spend more time embedded in foreign cultures around the world. I'm sure there are very different identity paradigms to learn about and explore than those in the western cultures I've been raised in.


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