Wisdom and identity are connected. One represents our knowledge, and the other is often shaped by it. In his play “Doubt” Shanley touches upon the idea that knowledge can lead to sorrow and distress, and how a change in identity can be unpleasant. Andrew Solomon’s presentation covers how trauma can shape the identity of a person positively. This paper will cover both of these topics by providing a personal reflection on these ideas, as well as a personal opinion on their accuracy.
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Wisdom and Grief
Despite the focus on skepticism, Shanley points out that wisdom often leads to sorrow by quoting a passage from Ecclesiastes (11). This is a relatively popular notion, and I believe there is some truth to it. Sister James can be seen as an example of this notion. She begins the play as an innocent, naïve, but determined teacher that wants the best for her students. She enjoys teaching, has great respect for her colleagues and Father Flynn, and has a very optimistic view of the world despite having little experience. When Sister Aloysius confronts her, she starts trying to change her attitude, but it leads to distress and uncertainty. She tells her “I must tell you I have been longing for the return of my peace of mind” (Shanley 24).
It is hard to call this sorrow, but she is clearly in distress. However, the reason for her distress is doubt, and not wisdom. She becomes more observant, but her thoughts are still assumptions and not the truth. The reader cannot know if she was right to assume or not, which makes it hard to truly know if wisdom is truly the reason for her distress. However, I do agree with this quote. I have grown up only with a small interest in politics, but a few years ago I started researching the wrongdoings of the United States during the Cold War period. Issues such as the radiation experiments, Operation “Condor,” and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment have shown how willing people can be to commit horrible acts under the guise of national defense. This information, however, brought me nothing but sadness. There is nothing I can do for the people who suffered from those atrocities. There is nothing I can do to stop them as they were done a long time ago. I can only be aware of their cruelty, and that is not a pleasant feeling.
Importance of Identity
Andrew Solomon tells the audience about how the difficulties people experience in life can be used to shape their identity for the better. He describes his experiences, and experiences of the people he interviewed to show how acceptance of past events can be used to refine yourself and become a stronger person (Solomon). While in common vernacular this notion is represented by the saying “what does not kill you, makes you stronger,” his idea is slightly different. It could be put into these words “what does not kill you, creates your identity.” I mostly agree with this as I find the search for identity to be an important process that many young people go through, and negative events can serve as a foundation if they are properly analyzed. However, I find there to be a small but important caveat to this idea. While negative events can be used for good, their effects cannot always be overcome.
Bullying in school often leads to poor development of social skills and low self-esteem. In worse cases, it leads to suicide and physical violence. Although this trauma can be used to advance your personality, it could also serve as a barrier to proper development. For example, my friend suffered from terrible bullying in school that involved physical violence and humiliation. Later it stopped, but after finishing school, he found it hard to socialize with people, and especially women. He would often refuse invitations to social events that involved strangers despite wanting to meet new people. Not long ago he made a concerted effort to become more sociable. This is great but his lack of social skills is making it much harder for him to socialize and I believe it would be easier for him if he had the chance to have a normal school experience. I do not think that all the best parts of our personality are shaped by negative events so it is not unlikely that a person could have a strong identity without being traumatized.
Is suffering an essential part of the identification of self? While I do not completely agree with this notion, it is likely to be accurate in some respects. Gaining wisdom can lead to sorrow, but it can also lead to a more assertive mind and a more skeptical approach to life. In times of unlimited information, these are very useful skills to have. Also, it would be wrong to disregard the ability of trauma to forge an identity, as the examples presented in the presentation are impressive. I just believe that it is not a requirement for the creation of a developed identity.
Shanley, John Patrick. Doubt: A Parable. Dramatists Play Service Inc., 2005.
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Solomon, Andrew. “How the Worst Moments in our Lives Make Us Who We are.” TED. Web.