August 11, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Trying to ‘find ourselves’ in an ever-changing world

Cynthia DewesLike Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.” We’re all the products of many influences over a lifetime. There’s input by parents, or lack of it, and from teachers and other authority figures, from education and reading, from geography, genetics, you name it.

It’s no wonder then that the current game of “finding oneself” is so popular. Indeed, it takes almost an entire lifetime to decipher all the clues to who we really are. Some of us never give this a thought, and just go with the flow, but others are so introspective that they almost become unable to function.

Not only people affect who we are, but also events and popular culture. The slapstick kind of humor that amused everyone in the early 20th century is now considered corny. The music that inspires us has gone from ragtime to jazz to swing to rock and roll and rap, with others thrown in. The Great Depression and World War II, Korea and Vietnam have influenced us, as has the Cold War.

Even our ideas of wonder and fun may affect us. When most people rarely traveled beyond their hometown or state, viewing the world’s wonders remained in movies and local amusement parks. You could visit Wisconsin Dells and see a Mayan temple, an upside-down White House, and even a Trojan Horse. For thrills, there was the roller coaster or tilt‑a‑whirl ride, while today we have space travel and bullet trains.

Changes in shopping practices affect our conceptions of money, style or value. We have many more choices in what to buy without many practical comparisons. Our individual taste may be trumped by what the magazines say is “in,” or what others admire. Today fitting in, in more ways than one, is often different than it used to be. What gains approval by others is not based on a fixed standard.

The way we eat, personal hygiene, and other individual practices affect who we are, often literally. We can be chronic overeaters or dieters, those who bathe religiously and those who wait to be told. And certainly, our health determines much about us. We may be silent sufferers or whiners, hypochondriacs or terminally ill, but all of it helps make us who we are.

That’s a lot of “stuff,” and we certainly can’t spend time thinking about all of it. But whatever results from our analysis, it’s our behavior and responses that count in the long run. Whether they’re overtly religious or not, I believe that most people are innately good and will try to do the right thing. After all, we’re made in the image of God. But if we’ve been skewed somehow along the way, we will need help to get right again. We must learn to make good choices, which is not easy when we’re trapped in self-interest and greed and self‑importance.

It’s no surprise to us who’ve been given the gift of faith that the path to peace and true self-knowledge comes in practicing the Christian ethic of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Having been made in the image of God, that’s our real identity. We should act like it.

Instead of spending so much time, money and effort to “find ourselves,” maybe we should just pray for understanding and settle for the person we really know ourselves to be.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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