Can we be more than the sum of our parts?

By Micaela Delfino

John Locke, English philosopher and physician, had the theory that the individuals in a society truly want to live together, in harmony, without any type of aggression. Moreover, he said that “every man has a property in his own person” and that the individual “has a right to decide what would become of himself and what he would do, and as having a right to reap the benefits of what he did”.[1][2]

Charles Horton Cooley, an American sociologist, believed that identities are formed from interactions, so that the more interactions one has, the more choices they have to form their own identity[3]. More often than not, our parents shelter us from some parts of society that they are unfamiliar with, thinking they are protecting us.

We are not born limitless. We are born in one country to a family of certain characteristics, speak a certain language, and are probably introduced to a certain religion. Until we grow up and meet new people, that is our comfort zone, where we can develop our interests, our talents and share our beliefs in a safe place, with a known manner, conduct, and maybe, also a known response. Our self-image, now more than ever, is shaped by society. We behave like what we believe the others think we are. Rather than just being, we spend some time figuring out how the other perceives us and, with that in mind, we choose what to show about ourselves.

In college, some of us have the chance to be exposed to different groups of people and their ideas, which may differ from our own, and that is truly great. Otherwise, we would risk creating one-sided identities and opinions of ourselves and others.

Social interactions are, in a way, a learning process. We learn from others while they learn from us, we take in what we like from them and they sometimes challenge our opinions, so as to help us forming our ideas and finding true meaning.

Our identity is ever flowing; we are not permanent beings. Heraclitus of Ephesus is known to have said that “ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers”, because “all entities move and nothing remains the same”. However, unlike water, we have the capacity to channel the direction of our development. We have the capacity to shape ourselves. The so-called “true self” is not there for us to, one day, magically find but rather to create it. You both discover what you like and you create it because we have the power to shape our identity, who we are.

One can learn about so many things and sometimes we try to surround ourselves with what we already know we like, so as to be at ease and comfortable but I don’t think we should. We should try and experience as much as possible, reach to other sources of knowledge, even though we might be unfamiliar with them, and grasp whatever works for us and our field of study to enrich our perception. It is not enough to know about one thing. We have to learn from different sources and take on a much broader approach to everything, to truly try to understand the reality we live in and make the most of our future.

Nowadays, we get caught up in labeling every single thing we do, from the colors we like to the food we prefer eating, to the relationship we are in. Gradually, with globalization, this has been changing. Globalization according to Martin Albrow and Elizabeth King is the “process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and other aspects of culture”[4]. Personally, I consider it made us change the way we think about personal relationships, international relations, commercial exchanges and also political ideology and geography.

The international or globalized culture is homogeneous. At the same time, it brings us together and creates a sort of belonging while, in some cases, it broadens our sense of nationalism because it disorientates us, drawing us away from the culture we were born into, increasing fear.

Our identity can be challenged by some factors, for example: discrimination. I consider that it should not be accepted in any form in any country. There are some groups that face compounded forms of discrimination due to factors such as their race or ethnicity, religion, disability or socio-economic status, and this should not be tolerated and is in fact one of the most common topics inside the human rights discussion.

Another important factor that also shapes our identity, is gender. I believe there should not be a difference between salaries for the same work, economic and social discrimination, gender-based violence or laws and policies prohibiting women from equal access to land, property, and housing. Moreover, women should not be afraid to develop in society, to have the career they wish to have, to go out at night alone: they should not be afraid to just be women. This is something we have to accomplish together –all of the states– to ensure a better life both for women and men. To effectively ensure women’s rights we have to understand the social structures and power relations that frame not only laws and politics but also the economy, social dynamics and family and community life.[5]

We should not look at ourselves as defined beings in a society that is constantly changing and rediscovering itself while we, as citizens of our country and the world, experience the same thing. We are not simple, we are complex. We are formed by everything that happened to us, every experience we had, our mother tongue and the other languages we speak, our nationalities, our gender, race and ethnicity, our education, religion or lack thereof and everything that surrounds us: our socio-economic, legal and political, territorial reality as we know it, our relationship with our friends, family and the people we meet along the way and their experiences, opinions and beliefs, and we might not get to know every other thing that shapes us and ultimately makes us who we are, and that is okay.

It is said that we are the sum of our parts, and while that in a way may be true, we have an essence that is separated from the parts and its sum, which is not ever-changing but rather constant, it is a permanent entity that does not flaunt.

I believe that we can work together well for social purposes. Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The term comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία, meaning “working together”. Our action, our result, and our impact can be much greater if we work together, coming from different backgrounds, diverse cultures, and fields of study: We can achieve a lot more when we decide to cooperate and enrich one another and our objectives rather than acting on our own, isolated.

We have a shared purpose: making this world a little better, every day, with every action and decision we make, and despite our differences, we have to work together to ensure that that goal is achieved, for it is the only way we can make it happen.

[1] Olsaretti, Serena. 2004. Liberty, Desert and the Market. Cambridge University Press. p. 91

[2] Dan-Cohen, Meir. 2002. Harmful Thoughts: Essays on Law, Self, and Morality. Princeton University Press. p. 296

[3] Cooley, Charles Horton. (1902) Human Nature and the Social Order, New York: Scribner’s, pp. 152

[4] Albrow, Martin and Elizabeth King (eds.) (1990). Globalization, Knowledge and Society London



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