Writing 01: Identity

Who am I? This is a classic question that is also extremely difficult to answer. After all, people are complex beings, ever changing and constantly growing. There are ways however to break down an identity by recognizing smaller influences, and I shall exemplify this by breaking down my own identity in reference to the following aspects: Computing, Notre Dame, and privilege.

The first aspect, computing, is an obvious influence given my major (Computer Science), and in some ways I exemplify some stereotypical behaviors. Let us first consider a couple of stereotypical examples. The first is the kind of person you see in the media, the “hacker” who sits in his dark room and types furiously to hack into some sort of mainframe. The hacker is usually unkempt, messy, and generally not self-aware, a person who prefers to focus on his work/computer more than other people. The second is the more realistic “hacker”, which embodies a stubborn spirit that allows a person to break down more complex problems into manageable chunks and who learns best by doing. The last, the “engineer” who is held to standards and attempts to build a better future. In a way, I feel I embody aspects of all 3. Of the first, at times I do become a “recluse” of sorts, as once I enter the “flow” of programming, I could easily go 2 or 3 hours without doing anything else. Of the second, I am extremely stubborn when it comes to my work, and I will repeatedly hack away at a problem until I solve it, no matter how difficult. The last, though programmers are in many ways not engineers as there is less certification in such fields, I do still hope to “build” something with my skills, and to sharpen my own abilities to build meaningful and useful projects. That doesn’t mean however that I fully embody any of these three stereotypes, as doing so would be impossible because there seems to be some conflicts in the divisions, but that is how identity is I suppose: a conglomeration of other identities.

The second aspect is Notre Dame, and I believe this idea ties closely with the idea of privilege. In recent years, the idea of “white privilege” has become a very touchy subject, but privilege itself is not inherently tied to one race. Privilege is simply having a better starting point than other people, and that can manifest either in a caring family, wealth, area where you grew up in, or in many other ways. I say privilege is tied to my ND identity, because the majority of people at ND are privileged as well, and being “privileged” definitely helped me get to ND in the first place. Thus, during this time at ND, I think it is important to recognize the privilege that helped bring us here. It is not to say that we didn’t work hard to get where we are now, but simply that we had a better starting point and we have to keep in mind that there are others less fortunate than us that could have been here with us ND if they were born into more fortunate circumstances.

That is why the idea of meritocracy, a concept that I’d like to touch on for a little bit, is problematic. Meritocracy is fair only when everyone competing starts at the same level. If someone has a head start, then the quality of work he/she produces is based partially on luck. Not to say that those who have succeeded with privilege have only done so because of it, but having privilege will certainly make it easier, and it’s something we have to recognize. It’s important too not to fall into the trap of thinking that you have earned everything you have, and thinking that it is a pure meritocracy.

At any rate, having detailed some of my identity, hopefully we can see where some of my views are coming from. I like to see the world as malleable and changeable (to an extent_, and that is probably because of my stubborn mindset (why should I change when I can change the world). Additionally, having privilege likely contributes to that, as I have been put into more situations where I have more control. I also am a fan of the idea of a meritocracy, because at the end of the day it is a competitive world and the best work should win, but on the other hand I am fine when opportunities are given to the less fortunate as I know that I too have relied on luck to an extent to get where I am now. I also believe that where society needs to invest is in the needy areas, and that more aid proportionally should be given to those who really need it.

I’d like to believe that the world would perceive me and my identity in a positive light, but sometimes stereotypes prevail. There’s always the idea that being a programmer makes you an awkward nerd who only stares at computers all day, or that being from Notre Dame might make you a “rich kid” or “elite” who doesn’t understand what other people are going through, and so it is important I feel to make an extra effort in those areas so that I do not fall into those traps.