Vol. LXXV (2017) - No. 268 Originalidad e Identidad Personal. Claves antropológicas frente a la masificación [Originality and personal identity: Anthropological keys in the face of overcrowding].

Commentarios | Comments

Barraca Mairal, J. (2017).


In this profound and insightful essay, ,

the author tries to find an answer to one of the questions that humankind has, in all likelihood, asked most often: who am I? A question that inevitably addresses the very questioner. ,

Barraca’s enquiries into this question comprise four major blocks. In the first, he tackles the complexity of identity in the human condition, placing special emphasis on identifying some of the factors that in contemporary society seem most relevant. These are factors that can con- tribute to masking and obscuring personal identity, thus confusing people who, with the deepest sincerity, have chosen to venture to discover who they are. ,

From the deep and critical perspective of realist anthropology, the author reviews some of the damaging factors that might impede or disfigure the encounter with one’s self. In light of this, perhaps with the aim of encouraging potential readers of this work, I have tried to ex- press some of the questions reading it has inspired in me. ,

Can one guide one’s own life in ignorance of who one is or wants to become? What does one’s own experience contribute to knowledge of personal identity? Is it necessary to reflect on what constitutes the fabric of everyday existence? Can the overcrowding of a globalised society dissolve personal uniqueness, making it just another number that is only useful for statistical calculation? How can one distinguish the true identity of the protagonism of the I, the search for social approval, or narcissism? Are we sensitive to attempts at personal and collective manipulation? Do we know how to identify them? Do we have sufficient resources to confront them? ,

In the second block, the author studies the relationship and dialogue between the I and the you. From the beginning, the encounter with the Other contributes to knowledge of one’s own identity. The social dimension of the identity of the individual is an ingredient that is inalienable in this pursuit of personal knowledge. ,

In reality, there can be no I without you. How often is the encounter with the you what really makes it possible to deepen knowledge of the I! Are interpersonal relationships auto-constitutive with personal identity? What can be inferred from the fact that the person is a relational and essentially dialogic being? Can one’s own I shape the relationship with the Other? Can there be personal identity without the experience of loving and being loved? ,

In the third block, Barraca confronts the problem of the originality of the human being. This personal originality leads us to the question of personal origin, which is based on the unique oneness of each human being. The author’s reference to parenthood clearly shows this originality: «A child», he writes, «is always unique, even if it is not an only child. … No parent loves or can love all her children with an identical love, … she loves each one with a different, incomparable, unrepeatable, and intensely personal love» (p. 71). The path in life that each person chooses depends on this originality and its development. The resulting personal biography will be the result of this choice. This radical originality is primordial and it is not a centripetal reality nor a closed off one, and it does not revolve around one’s own I, even though the I is partly an outcome of it. ,

This originality is creative and opens itself up to however many people need it at the same time as seeking to be welcomed, recognised, and valued by others. The way in which it projects itself to and communicates with others does not fit into any category, scheme, cliché, gener- alisation, model, etc., simply because of the powerful (anthropological and ontological) link between the personal being and biographical originality. ,

Consequently, no institution (family, school, business, etc.) can sacrifice, crush, or annihilate this personal originality in the interest of the supposed common good. In so doing, it would commit the contradiction of stealing the most valuable thing the person has, the very thing he gives to others and to the common good. This is especially true in the field of education as «the task of education fundamentally involves correctly helping life to develop organically and profoundly, in consonance with the individual’s own personal originality» (p. 101). ,

Sadly, mass society does not seem to be particularly sensitive to the duty to respect originality and the biographic and creative itineraries that people freely choose. The anonymous and undifferentiated mass, instead, reduces subjects to numbers, crushing and dissolving the most radically human thing there is in them. ,

Forgetting the mystery of the person – something that is usually interpreted as not being subject to reason and, therefore, irrational – strips him of his unrepeatable value: putting his gifts at the mercy of his vocation in the service of others: a heinous act through which all people and the common good lose out without anyone gaining anything. ,

In this block, the reader can find the necessary help to answer some of the questions I formulate here and which might affect him in person: is originality something that gets confused with what is outlandish and strange? Can some of the behavioural patterns of users on social networks be classified as original? Is originality at the exclusive service of the protagonism of the I? Does originality serve any purpose if the person does not know himself? Is it possible for the person to «reinvent» himself? Fully? Are there personal «invariant» elements that can never be modified? Is originality just a fantasy image for escaping from oneself or catching the attention of spectators whom the person imitates and to which he adapts himself? Is it not the case that originality is instead at the service of personal identity, of continuity and faithfulness to one’s own vocation, to the freely chosen life project? Can one delegate one’s own liberty? Is it possible to make one’s own life while being a slave to changing fashions, habits, and customs? Is each person the progenitor of his actions and the author of his personal life? ,

Finally, in the fourth block, Barraca brings together identity and personal originality in dialogue with justice. «All values matter when developing one’s own identity, all of them feed our originality», he writes. Of all of them, he places special emphasis on justice, «the key to any educational effort. This is the case, insofar as justice governs the underlying order in the mutual encounter of different originalities and identities combined in diverse human and educational relationships, those directed towards the holistic development of subjects» (p. 109). ,

Can any relationship be established between justice and personal development? In my opinion, some people have a very constrained concept of justice which is restricted solely the material. They regard it as something like a giant cake that must be shared out between everyone in exact identical slices. However, personal development, for example, is a spiritual good that is more valuable than material goods and also has a relationship with justice. Its development depends to a large extent on how each person uses his liberty. ,

People come into this world with a range of different positive traits that have been given to them (gifts), all of them valuable and many still in a potential state. They must be developed, so that they are updated and are as active and effective as they can come to be. ,

It could be argued that these gifts are personal and fundamentally belong to their respective owners. Therefore, it is not uncommon to hear people say things like «these values are mine and I can do whatever I want with them». Few objections could be raised about the previous statement. In effect, the values with which the subject has been endowed are his and belong solely to him. And as the owner of them, he may do whatever he pleases with them. ,

However, if we consider this from the social side of his person, then it is indeed worth making an objection, an important and serious one. If this subject develops those values, he will be more competent, will easily resolve serious problems, and will better serve others. Let us suppose that this subject is especially gifted as a teacher. Insofar as he develops those values (knowledge, empathy, capability to seek the truth, verbal fluency, communication, motivation, etc.), his effectiveness as a teacher will increase and with it the possibility of making his future students happier. ,

His values certainly do belong to him. The consequences of whether or not he develops them are partly his but partly not. If he does not develop his capability to seek the truth, it is likely that he will encounter serious difficulties in transmitting it to his students; if he does not expand his knowledge, it is possible that he will transfer his own ignorance to them, and so on. ,

The values that the aforementioned teacher has continue to be his, but not all of the consequences of what he has done or ceased to do with them. Many of these consequences seriously affect his students: idleness in seeking the truth, demoralisation for knowledge, etc. ,

In essence, the teacher in the previous example has taken some initial goods (the bounty of the gifts he received, certain perfectible perfections) that he has not known how to, wanted to, or been able to develop and so they have become neglected perfections, in other words, imperfections (anti-values) he will transmit to his students (people who do not belong to him and were entitled to a better education). ,

In this sense, his behaviour could be classified as unjust, because he has undervalued or ruined his initial values; because as a person, he has not developed to his full status; because as a teacher, he has transmitted to the next generation the deficiency he finds in the values received that he has not cultivated. This way of behaving impedes the act of «giving each person his due», which is the nature of justice. ,

All things considered, the undeveloped values have prevented him from growing as a person. He has turned the initial «perfectible perfection» which the values comprised into a relative deterioration or absence of the final values available (personal imperfection). ,

In contrast, if he had made his initial values grow, he would now be a valuable person (he would embody a certain plenitude of values that, with effort, he has earned starting from what he was given); he would make it easier for his students to learn what he teaches them («it is easy to learn with him», they would say); he would help make them feel more secure and confident in their own capabilities (something that would improve their self-esteem and self-concept), and it is even possible that some of them would try to imitate him or would be inspired by his example when discovering their own vocation. ,

Evidently, spreading a passion for truth and justice among students is a good principle on which to base the art of educating. But an erudite exposition of these values will be of very little use if the teacher does not embody them. Embodying those values means incorporating them into everyday life as behavioural habits. Behaviour is more important than theoretical exposition, however brilliant this exposition might be. ,

When a value is embodied in the person, it becomes a virtue. An embodied value is none other than what we call a virtue. Growing in virtues is one of the most original forms of developing and projecting one’s initial originality. The greater the growth in the field of virtues, the more deep and coherent the personal identity will be. ,

In this short publication, Javier has presented us with a brief and clear synthesis of one of the questions that most affects the contemporary individual. Really, this question is as old as humankind itself. What is perhaps new is the way in which the contemporary person refuses to face these questions, despite feeling interpellated by them. In these pages, the author opens new horizons to the person, something that is very welcome. On top of this, it has two other important good features: the clarity of his exposition, without excessively complicating these questions, and – even more significantly – the effort to try to provide us with some solutions. I am very grateful for everything Barraca has taught me in this text. ,

I recommend a close reading of this essay to teachers and students, psychologists and pedagogues, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, indeed all professionals who in one way or another have to deal with the most valuable thing in the world: care and service for people. ,

I would particularly like to note the care, accuracy, and good taste shown by the San Pablo publishing house in the printing and publishing of this work. ,

Aquilino Polaino-Lorente

Licencia Creative Commons | Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Esta obra está bajo una licencia internacional Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial 4.0.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

This document is currently not available here.