June 22, 2010
I am the youngest of six kids. Because I’m bringing up the rear I missed the opportunity to watch my siblings grow and develop themselves. In my mind my siblings have always been fully solidified individuals with their own unique interests, opinions, humor, moods, preferences, biases, strengths, and faults. It must have been a very different experience for my oldest sister to watch us younger siblings as we learned and grew and established our identities and world views. But for me it seemed that my siblings had always been the way they were. And thus it seemed to me that identity was something that is discovered more than it is created. Probably the truth lies somewhere in between.
As an adolescent when I became fully engaged in the business of discovering/creating my identity I frequently used my siblings as a means of validating myself. When something grabbed my attention I would ask “Is this something my siblings do? Is this something they would approve of?” Occasionally, it wasn’t me asking, it was them saying, “No, we don’t approve of that. That’s low brow. You’re better than that” And with this help I gradually I formed a crude identity. I was Paul Gardner the boy that likes music and books, just like one of his brothers, and skiing, just like the other.
I have no doubt that I got that I got those three things right, my love for music, books, and skiing hasn’t slackened since my adolescence. But overall using your siblings to discover your own identity is not a process I would recommend. There were some things that I probably should have pursued more but didn’t (horses, football) and a few things I wasted time trying to be interested in (rock climbing, music without swear words)but didn’t. The more damaging effect though, was that my siblings became a crutch that kept my identity from becoming fully developed. This focus on discovering myself prevented me in some essential ways from creating myself. Case in point, when I returned from my mission I chose with very little deliberation to live in the same apartment complex as 3 of my older siblings. Nothing terribly wrong with that, except that it reflected some closed mindedness, and a timid desire to follow in footsteps instead of blazing my own trail. Kind of behind schedule for a 21 year old.
But since then I have grown and now I have no confusion about who I am. There is no self deception, or imitation in my identity. I like what I like. I do what I do. I am how I am. Now when I recognize a shared interest, or personality trait, I know it is a genuine commonality, one that links us together from our true natural center.