The Transient Self

Who am I?

If you ask most of us who we are, we will answer you by naming one or another relationship. We are, for instance, a husband.  Or a golfer.  Or a businessman.  But to say we are a husband, or a golfer, or a businessman, is each case to define our self in terms of the relationship we have to something.

In contrast, we tend not to define our self in terms of what is happening with us at any given moment.  I do not think of myself as someone whose shoulder is itching. Or as someone who happens to be looking at a computer monitor.  Or as someone who is wishing it was dawn.  All of those are transient things -- too transient for me to think of them as "me".

Yet, being a husband, a golfer, or a businessman are also transient.  That is, if you really think about it, you are not simply "a husband".  You are only sometimes a husband.  Just as your shoulder only sometimes itches.  And it is only a convention of thought that you imagine yourself to always -- or continuously -- be a husband.


  1. I tend to think of myself as the destined savior of the world - does that count as a relationship?

    I'm not sure I'd agree with the characterization of relationships as transient. My wife remains my wife, even when she's not interacting with me directly; in much the same way, the U.S. and England remain allies even when they're not actively allied against anything in particular. And I am the father of my boys regardless of whether I'm interacting with them directly, or even in the same country. (Be an easy out for child support, otherwise...)

    So I'd say that A) those relationships are better considered as qualities than actions, and B) they are qualities that tend to shape a non-trivial amount of our actions, which is why they are useful for defining us.

  2. This is one of those topics of great philosophical debate, for sure. As Michael Mock posits, there is a permanence to some status. Yet, as you suggest Paul, there is a definite transient quality to our lives in general, and especially in the thoughts of a moment.

    I am of the present opinion that our "permanent" relationships are like comfortable mental furniture. We walk into a room and enjoy the furniture, and we walk out with a certain comfort knowing that the furniture is still there. But if the metaphorical house burns down and our furniture is destroyed in an instant, our self remains intact; at least in most cases. (There are those who truly define themselves by their furniture, making recovery from the loss impossible.)

    So in the way that your actual home decor may be used to describe your taste and practicality, so too your mental furniture, your relationships and labels you ascribe to yourself, help to define you to yourself and to others. At least, that's my transient thought of the moment.

  3. I can only paraphrase Vonnegut: I am the victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.

  4. I'm just me -- I don't know how to be anyone else and at this late date, I hardly think I'm gonna change at this late date. Guess what? I don't want to change -- at nearly 65, I'm relatively comfortable in my own skin -- finally.

  5. I am what I am .When I'm writing this I'm different from what i was before writing this and I'll be different after writing this,because every action and experience will create a new me,so don't take me for granted!

  6. @ Michael Mock: You raise an interesting point: What exactly is a relationship?

    I think the word, "relationship", can point to two very different things.

    First, it can point to something that exists only as a concept. For instance: Judy's and my boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Judy and I parted company a long time ago, and our boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is now only a memory -- that is, it is now only a concept. To say it exists as more than a concept would seem to require that one posit the past exists in the present moment.

    But the word, "relationship", can also point to something that is present now. For instance: If I were at this moment chasing the squirrel in my yard, then it could be said I have that particular relationship to the squirrel.

    So, the word "relationship" can point to either a concept or an actuality. I would simply submit that whenever it points to something which is not real in the present moment, then it is pointing to something that is real only as a concept.

  7. @ The Wise Fool: I am fascinated by the tendency most of us humans have of defining our selves in terms of such things as the relationship we have to our furniture, occupations, and significant other people in our lives -- to mention just three things.

    My fascination with that human tendency took a leap when I was 37 and lost most of the things I had accumulated within the course of six months or so. I had not realized until I lost those things how deeply I was identifying myself with my occupation, etc.

  8. Pjevs -- I think what you say is profoundly true. And yet, in my experience, it is very difficult to think that way about oneself for any length of time. We seem to need permanence. Or, at least the illusion of it.

  9. Nance -- I love that quote! Thanks for sharing that!

  10. Kay -- I, too, find becoming comfortable in my own skin to be a huge benefit of aging. I cannot imagine feeling that way as a teen.

  11. The biggest poser facing me when I started to blog, Twitter and so on was that prompt to write something "about" myself. Whatever the correct response is, it's hard to cram into a short space.

    I come down on describing myself as a weightlifter, a writer, an angry person, because my body is constantly doing things at a molecular level that are precipitated by my exercise habit, I think constantly in vividlanguage, and no matter how much Yoga I've done, the world still infuriates me. (Mostly the human race, but sometimes it's more the sentiment my late-and-ex husband once expressed: "When I find a dead squirrel in my path it makes me want to shake my fist at God." In other words, I concede the Buddhist dictum that life is suffering, but whose brilliant idea was that. Well... anyway.

    None of these postulate any particular relationship or even gender. At one time it would have been mre accurate to say musician instead of weightlifter, and idealist instead of angry, but time collapses us into the possible.

    I was always annoyed by dialogues that asked me to identify with a relationship role or social niche. I think everything always felt kind of accidental to me.


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