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Thursday, February 29, 2024 — Houston, TX

People are defined by a who, not a what

By Cody Shiling     8/31/11 7:00pm

It seems to me that in our society, we know and acknowledge people in only one dimension. 

Actors are famous for their movies and nothing else (with a few exceptions). Sports stars are valued in our culture only as far as they can win in their sport. A manager is the vice president of something for some nameless corporation. Would we even care about who A-Rod is if he wasn't as good at hitting a baseball or Aaron Rodgers if he wasn't as good of a quarterback? 

Now, I do realize that these are their jobs: actors get paid to make famous movies, athletes get paid to win important games. To a certain extent, what our business cards will say is who we are, but it is not even close to the defining feature of our person. We should not perceive other people by what their title or their major or their job is, and we must also take care not to let what we do define who we perceive ourselves to be; what we do should be an extension, not a creator, of who we are. 

Even here at school, we are guilty of this misrecognition. We know fellow students as the president of a college or as someone on the varsity volleyball team. Frequently, the first questions to always come up when meeting a new person is, "What's your major?" I am perfectly happy telling people I am a philosophy major, but the fact is that in no way does that define or even express who I am as a person. I am not Cody the philosophy major. Nor am I Cody, the guy from Fort Worth. I am Cody; Who I am obviously encompasses both of those facts, but neither of them can come close to describing who I am as a person. 

When we first make someone's acquaintance, it's natural to remember only tidbits of information about the person we just met. We can't remember more than that from a first encounter; and to be honest, I wouldn't be comfortable trying to explain who I am as a person to someone I just met a few minutes ago. All too often we don't make explicit the reason why we only remember small bits about someone we know. Instead, it becomes a sort of intellectual crutch which, if we don't do anything to prevent it, isolates us and keeps us from truly recognizing the worth of everyone we meet in anything more than "memory"-bytes. In our society of convenience, we feel that remembering bits of trivia means that we can say "Yeah, I know Mallory."

Of course, if we use small little personal facts about someone to form a judgment of who they are, we are doing nothing more than defining them by whatever stereotypes we have in our heads of that particular group of people. So-and-so isn't going to have a real job because he's a philosophy major or has no life because they're a pre-med. 

People are not defined by what they do or what they study or who they date. So the next time you are introducing yourself to someone, try to remember that he is Jon who happens to be pre-med, not Jon, the pre-med. 

Cody Shilling is a Will Rice College junior 

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