When I was a very small child, my life was easy to understand. I was my father’s son. I adored him and wanted to be like him. And I needed him to be proud of me.
I wanted and needed my mother’s love and attention. I saw myself as a tiny protector for my younger sisters. Nobody actually told me these things about myself. This was simply an acceptable role for a little boy in my culture. It was my identity.
As I grew up, I added bits and pieces to my identity. Without realizing it, I was choosing from a limited menu consisting of what my culture believed was acceptable. Bit by bit, I developed a definite identity.
I knew who I was. I knew where I belonged. A lot of things were wrong in my life as I grew up, but I firmly understood my place in this world.
Eventually, I broadened my view of myself and who I was. I became someone whose identity diverged more and more from what traditional culture considered acceptable. I made choices which would have once seemed unimaginable to me, but which had come to be acceptable by the culture.
And I’m left with a seeming contradiction. I’ve found a wonderful array of choices which previous generations never had. I’ve had freedom to make my life into things which cultural norms would have prevented for my grandfather or great-grandfather.
But those choices I’ve had — the choices I’ve made for myself — have also taken me further and further from the cultural grounding which gave their lives stability and meaning. And I’m not certain whether my life is better or worse than the lives of those who lived before such choices were possible.