When I first read the following quote, it really stuck with me. Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else.” I think why this impacted me is because of how relatable it is to the way people’s lives are looked at sometimes: a series of actions or experiences and expectations. Interestingly, through Molly Beauregards Consciousness, Creativity and Identity class and making sense of my own feelings about it, I feel Gandhi might have been wrong.
I have been told for a long time that people are who they are because of the situations they have gone through in their lives. I heard over and over variations of Gandhi’s words. And I believed this too. It made enough sense. I could rationalize certain situations and boil them down to find the answers I was looking for, whether I was analyzing someone else’s actions or my own. I didn’t really look too closely until after I had graduated high school and began to see those experiences from a different vantage point. I had a typical Catholic, stable, loving, and carefree upbringing. If I really was a product of everything I had done up to that point, then why was I still feeling like I didn’t have a strong footing or really know who I was?
I thought in order to figure it out I would be doing the same thing I had always been doing. But looking back on my life didn’t really do anything for me—and still really hasn’t. It turns out, taking all the pieces and trying to put them back together doesn’t really form a whole me. Thinking about the idea of being the “sum of experiences” now, I get a feeling of being a stranger at a funeral. My life would be equivalent to hundreds of photographs pasted to boards, stored in scrapbooks and looped on a powerpoint projected on a wall. This is supposed to provide a summary of life? Yet, a glimpse is all the photos can be. Just as analyzing the snapshots of experiences someone has had in their lives is only a glimpse into what it means to know that person’s true self. Humans are not simply equations: bad experience plus good experience plus confusing experience equals a whole person.
According to C. Mills, many people become falsely conscious of their social positions. They don’t know they are greater than their experiences, and they live their lives thinking that the things they’ve done and seen make up their whole person—even when they might have not had much control over what was going on. People aren’t just reflections of the things they’ve gone through, and shouldn’t be reduced to that. What is bigger than what happens to us in our lifetimes is the connections between those experiences, and the connections we make with people along the way. No matter what you do to figure anyone else out, you can really never know how they’ve made their connections.
This is why I feel that humans have failed to come up with a solid definition of what it means to be conscious, or to have a soul, or to love someone so deeply that you would sacrifice your well being for theirs, even though it isn’t rational. No matter how hard we try, the human experience cannot be boiled down to an equation able to be repeated. I know humans will continue to try to “figure it out”. There is something about cracking a code that is satisfying. But if in the process of solving this equation, you are reducing people to narrow parts, then you are only getting a glimpse into what makes up a whole person. There will ultimately always be something missing from the equation.
Colleen Arce | Interior Design student at the College for Creative Studies