"It is very difficult to know people ... For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives' tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can't come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them."
- W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge, 1943
We are who we are, there's no question about that. But ultimately who we are is the total sum of our experiences throughout life as we have lived it so far. We are the place we grew up in; the values and beliefs we were taught by our elders; the things we learnt at school, both in and out of the classroom; the friends we've made and lost; the loves we've found and let go, and so on and so forth. All these things are as individual as we are. We cannot judge someone based on these experiences without having gone through them ourselves, in that exact same moment in time as and when they experienced it.
We could try to relate our experiences in a conversation to someone else who wasn't there at that time, only for them to say that they have no clue what we're talking about, or that they cannot imagine what it must've been like to be in our shoes, and so cannot empathise, no matter how hard they may try. It's like a war veteran recounting his/her wartime experiences to their grandchildren; as much as the younger generation might be moved, fascinated and horrified, they will never truly be able to properly understand the soul-destroying reality of the battlefield and the trauma of its aftershocks. All simply because they were never there at that time, and never experienced it like their grandparents did.
Who we are is something that's so familiar like the back of our hands,
yet so profoundly inexplicable and unexplainable, like the very mysteries of
our souls. There's something about being you, being the very person, the very individual you are, existing on this planet, that makes you so similar, yet different to everyone else around you.
You're one of the 7 billion-plus people living on this planet. You may be just one, and only one insignificant human being, but you're still a part of it all. You're still a part of...everything.
But what makes you different, is your own experience of life, something that's so individual and personalised, you could say it fits like a favourite pair of old blue jeans. It's something that defines our existence in this world and shapes us all, no matter who we are, what we've been through and what we've done or will ever do. It's something we know, but struggle to understand. It's something that knows no bounds, yet is constrained by the limits we set for ourselves.
But what makes it so special, is that it's something others will never know, and will never understand.