It seems today that people are often in search of self-understanding, an understanding of “who they are”. In my veiw, what is generally meant by the question “who are you?” is this: What is it that defines the difference between you and other people? What do you have that no one else has? What makes you unique?
In other words, they are really in search of an understanding of their individuality. In fact, society today is obsessed with the concept of individuality. Emphasis is always placed on being “original” and not copying other people. People are taught they have to put their own unique stamp on the world, and being overly influenced by other people is often frowned upon.
On top of this, we have many people claiming that even reality itself must be different for each individual. They say things like “create your own reality” and “find your own truths”. When noticing that different people can assess the same event via different beliefs, some people take this to mean reality does not exist at all! Many counsellors will also maintain that they will treat you as an individual rather than looking at what you have in common with others, and that you really must find your own unique answers to your problems as their are no common answers which might apply.
So then, if a person wishes to try and live by all these philosophies and really find their individuality, where would they begin such a search? Well the answer is that in order to find that which sets you apart from everyone else, you must first study what everyone has in common. How the hell can you claim to know what makes you different from others if you don’t even check to find out what other people have? What you think represents “who you are” might well be something other people also share.
It is only through an understanding of commonality that individuality can be recognised. So instead of embarking on an impossible search to find “who you are”, it might make more sense to instead search for “what do people have in common?” This might sound a bit vague. So let’s look at it in a few different contexts.
First let’s say we have a therapist who is trying to help people with their mental heath. The therapist is currently focusing on what is unique among his patients, and treats them all as a case not related to the others. But unbeknown to him, there are specific beliefs which each person with the same psychological issues have in common with each other, and all these patients would require the same treatment to recover from those issues. In order to discover this, the therapist would need to start comparing his patients and looking for common factors.
Another example is the subject of “life purpose”. Whenever I hear someone talking about finding their purpose in life, they almost always assume that purpose is different for everyone. Instead of looking for the common purpose of life, they instead get lost trying to fabricate their own unique purpose. Often this “purpose” is actually more a set of “goals”.
In reference to the idea that reality is different for everyone, you could try lining up thousands of people up in front of a truck, and ask them what they see. The fact they they would likely all come back with the word “truck” or an equivalent, indicates that there is something between all their individual experiences that they share in common – that is the experience of seeing a truck. This common shared experience is that of reality and there is only one! If everyone created their own reality communication between people would be impossible – there would be no common ground to start from.
Lastly, we can look to the human body for an example of commonality and individuality. If you look at every human body you will find a lot of commonality – most people have the same organs and their body largely operates in the same way. This was discovered from years of comparing people’s physiology – looking for commonality in how the system works. How silly would it be to ask “oh my lungs allow me to breathe, but what do yours do?”. Hmmm. But of course after such commonality is noted, you can then identify certain people who’s physiology might have difference. One persons lungs may have an infection, or cancer. So there may be some people who say “well my lungs aren’t working too well!”.
So, every person has both things which are common to all and things which are more unique. But ignoring the commonality in favour of individuality, as society often does, cannot be the best way to unravel truth.