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Turtles All the Way Down, Part Two

So yesterday I asked the first part of the question: “What the difference between who you are and what you have?” or “What’s the difference between who you are and what you do?”  Do we define people more by what they have (born into or worked for) or what they do?

The next part also occurs on page 79.  The texting conversation continues and the boy gives new parameters to setting the definition of the self: “Maybe you are what you can’t not be.”

Not what you are, but what you can’t choose not to do and still be yourself.  Meaning, I couldn’t be a meat eater and still be Melissa.  Being a vegetarian feels like something I can’t not be.  I couldn’t not be Jewish.  I just wouldn’t feel like myself if I didn’t have that cultural touchstone anymore.

But… then I wonder if there’s anything we can’t not be.  We all know from infertility that we hold beliefs about what we can’t not be (a parent).  But at the same time, we rationally know that life would continue, we would exist, even without reaching parenthood.  I was still myself even when I wasn’t achieving what I couldn’t not be, and I was still myself after reaching it.  You are/were yourself even when you aren’t/weren’t reaching what you want/wanted to be because we are more than a single facet of our personality.

Even our personalities aren’t one thing.  I’m a worrier, but I’m also organized, empathetic, and circumspect.  I can’t not be worried, can’t not be organized, can’t not be empathetic, and can’t not be circumspect, even though I also know that there are times when I’m calm, disorganized, and thoughtless.

Is there anything you can’t not be?  And what do you think would happen if you were not that thing?


1 Cristy { 02.14.18 at 9:21 am }

This is an interesting third question. Mainly because the “what I cannot be” from infertility resulted in such a major transition for me and how I view the world and myself in it. So many things were redefined from that trauma.

With job hunting, I’ve also been defining not only what I can do, but what I cannot do. I’m more specialized now in my career and there are certain skills that I don’t have as I developed the ones I do have.

Need to think on this more, but am looking forward to the other comments

2 a { 02.14.18 at 11:18 am }

I don’t really think there’s anything someone can’t not be, given the right circumstances. But I do think the concept is what lets us either feel superior (oh, it’s so easy to do this! when it’s not really easy…unless that’s how your personality operates) or let’s us write off annoying character traits (oh, that’s just how I am).

3 Working mom of 2 { 02.14.18 at 12:14 pm }


Sweets eater




4 torthuil { 02.14.18 at 11:26 pm }

I dunno. I believe there are constants in who I am but at the same time I believe in transcendence and transformation…..I don’t think life would be livable without them. Also how many of our character traits are truly important and hue many are just rather trivial idiosyncrasies?

5 Jill A. { 02.15.18 at 7:26 pm }

I often think of these questions when regarding senile dementia and Alzheimer’s. As each piece of a person drops away, each skill, each memory, each personality trait, when do you stop being yourself? There is a line, a point, somewhere. A before and an after. But I think it is a very fuzzy line.

6 Mali { 02.17.18 at 10:24 pm }

I’m really not sure about this assumption. I agree with your comment that during infertility many people think they could never not be a parent, yet many of them are in fact non-parents who are living full and productive and happy lives.

I also think we change. I remember a friend saying to me she wasn’t ambition. I thought at the time that I could never not be ambitious. Fast forward 15 or so years, and I am (reasonably) content and have no specific ambitions (other than travelling more), and she has risen to as close as she could get to the top of the government service. People change. Even our personalities change. We learn not to worry, to be more confident, etc. We’re taken on journeys we would never have expected or chosen, and we prosper.

And yes, as you put it so nicely – “we are more than a single facet of our personality.”

Thanks for giving me food for thought.

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