May 7th, 2007

thinking is dangerous

Finally, something intelligent from me during exams.

You're probably familiar with all those "describe yourself in one word" prompts. For a lover of words like myself, this proves to be extremely difficult, if not impossible. "Just one?" I'll sputter before choosing some generic word because I'll discard about sixty original words in almost as many seconds. I've had to answer many, many of these over the years, for myself and for other people. Other people have said things like "smart" and "talented" and "unique" to describe me in one word, which are all very nice but only sum up certain aspects of me.

A few nights ago I found a way to describe myself in one word.


For those who don't know what the word is, here's the definition, courtesy of

gestalt (n) :
1. a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts; a unified whole.
2. an instance or example of such a unified whole.

Now, where do I come in? I've been thinking about me--about my experiences, to be specific. And I thought of those people who say that they are the sum of their experiences. Then I started to think. This doesn't sound like me. If I really were the sum of my experiences alone, then the whole would be the sum of its parts. There must be something different, for the whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts alone.

Then I figured it out. I'm the sum of my experiences and what I choose to make of the consequences. The last part is the extra that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts alone.

Why? Because you can't just look at what I've done and get a picture of me--or of anyone, for that matter. If you look at the experiences alone, you just get a picture of what I've done. That doesn't tell you anything about how I reacted to them, how I made the best (or worst) of a given experience, or even how sometimes I just had to pick up the pieces and start over again. But I did. And I'm still living--more than that, really.

If I reacted differently to many of my experiences (or even just one), I probably wouldn't be in this exact position right now. We could play the game for awhile with various experiences, but if I hadn't chosen to react the way I did to what life threw at me, I wouldn't be here writing this particular entry right now. Okay, so maybe that's a little extreme. Who knows? I may not be a math geek or a social outcast or a grammarian. It all depends on the consequences, which I get to choose.

But I'm a unified whole, though. That's key to this definition, and why this word fits. Yes, I'm more than the sum of my parts (which is how I've often heard this word described), but what about being unified? I can't nitpick every single experience and tell how that experience and its consequences contributed to the person I am today. I could sit here and do that for some of the major ones (hello, conversion to math?), but I probably couldn't tell you how shaking the bridge during recess in elementary school helped any. Somewhere deep inside, everything fits. Everything--not necessarily the experiences and the consequences themselves, but the act of living them--has made me into what I am today.

I finally have a suitable word. After twenty years, it's about time.

(Oh, and how are those exams going? Glad you asked. I have just number theory left. I'm taking it tomorrow.)