A while ago, I attended a presentation by a prominent doctor turned politician who stated flat out: “We are what we do.” This statement has never left my mind since then.

Think about what makes you… you. Is it your action? Your beliefs? Your personality? Is it your dream? Your possessions?

You might find it hard to agree on one aspect because our identity is fluid and not static. We are complex human beings with multiple dimensions. Judging a person solely by their actions—or any particular characteristic—is akin to assessing the taste of a fine meal only by the amount of salt in it.

The belief we are what we do is deterministic and implies that our actions can always be pinned down to a single cause. Human behavior is both willed and caused. We can’t accurately define someone solely by their actions.

If we were what we did, people making mistakes, the principle of cognitive dissonance among others would be senseless. We often engage in actions inconsistent with our beliefs and values. If we don’t look beneath the surface, we’ll get an inaccurate picture of ourselves and others.

Besides, equating people and their actions is also a surefire way to reinforce people’s negative self-beliefs or feelings of grandiosity. Does failing at a maths exam make me a failure? Or getting 100 an intelligent person? You would agree not.

The shallower one defines themselves, the more unfulfilled one will be. Therefore, it’s wiser to understand people—and yourself—through multiple dimensions and not rush to hasty conclusions about your identity and others.

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