Who are you when you are here?

(Either the title is poetically cryptic, or it’s sleep-deprived nonsense. Up to you!)

Human beings are contextual creatures. Our identities are built around the experiences we’ve had and our perceptions of the world around us. More importantly, our identity is informed by the people who we share these experiences with. A lot of us try to create a definition of ourselves that is entirely derived from within, but it’s an incomplete definition. You are not simply defined by your work, or your role as a parent, or by the wealth you’ve accumulated.

I think this lack of completion is what leaves people lost and depressed as they look for some kind of direction. Sadly, the first fix they attempt is to fill that identity gap with material possessions. We’re all a little too comfortable with the role of ‘consumer’.

So what’s the missing piece? Citizenship. By joining different groups of people and working with them, you create the other pieces of yourself that fill in the gaps between work, family, and individualism. By being a part of something bigger than yourself, you get a better idea of who you are.

I’ve heard the blame being laid on the isolating nature of modern technology, that iPods and personal computers cut us off from the world around us and disintegrated society, but I have a different theory. Go a little further back in North American history to the suburban post-war boom of the Fifties. The suburbs pulled us away from community centres, religious institutions, civic organizations. As the years went on, we pulled further and further away from the groups and the crowds and even our neighbours. The electronic devices weren’t the cause of this retreat, they were a reaction. The kids turned inward and blocked out the unsatisfying noise around them.

But there was a search for community that kept taking place in the electronic realm. Facebook could in no way be as popular as it is if there wasn’t a desire for connectivity with other people. For some of us who had never learned the real world skills to seek out and forge new bonds with the community around us, technology gave us alternate means to learn how to find our community. Strange that it was around us the whole time, but there’s no point in dwelling about any lost time.

I’ve turned a corner in my own socialization: I’ve moved past tolerating social interaction to actually enjoying it. I meet new people and I try to find out what they’re about and what we can share together. And I get really excited when I imagine the interesting and wonderful things we could accomplish together.

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