Wednesday, 3 January 2007

2:1 Are you a separate person?

You take it for granted that you are ‘Lily’ and that Lily is a person who is different and distinct from other people. You have a very strong concept of yourself as an individual. You probably assume that this is how all people think of themselves. Yet while it is true that most people have some sense of their separateness, being English you belong to perhaps the most individualistic society in history. So your concepts of your separateness and individuality are especially strong.

In most societies the family comes first, and the individual is submerged within that group. This means that it is really impossible to think of yourself without thinking of others. There is little meaning to the word ‘I’ or ‘me’. This is shown in the very restricted use of such a word in some languages. You would in many societies only have a meaning in relation to others. Your identity comes from being a daughter in relation to parents, a mother in relation to children, a wife in relation to a husband, a serf or servant in relation to a lord, a living person in relation to the ancestors.

This is why in a Nepalese village where I have spent a lot of time you would not be called or addressed as Lily, but as ‘eldest daughter’, or, when you had your first child, as ‘mother of so and so’. In many other societies your name would change many times in your life. Imagine being called Lily until you were ten, then Jane for a few years, then Alice and so on, with your second name also changing frequently.

You, on the other hand, feel free and float around as a complete person with all kinds of inner powers and potentials. You may be a daughter or a mother, but these are not the things that make you who you are. You are Lily, and the other things are just aspects of yourself. The first basic assumption that you have, of your strong individual identity, with special and personal feelings, rights and freedoms, is very unusual.

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