“Every human being has a personality of their own as dissimilar as are two beings of the same race and of a similar nature. This personality is more or less manifested and is more or less strong, depending on the degree of the individual’s experience. As for manifestation, it depends on the more or less free environment in which the individual was reared.”

The above passage states that each individual has a unique personality that is irrelevant from external forces that cannot be controlled. The personality is not determined by place of birth, race, or who your parents are. It is an intrinsic part of every person. Whether or not a person embraces their personality and fully expresses it is a different matter. The individual’s experience and their environment affects the personality’s degree of manifestation. For example, growing up in a strict and regimented environment may suppress personality and cause the individual to behave in a way that conforms to the norm. Living in an accepting and free place allows people to be their authentic selves and manifest their personalities.

How the phrase applies to me:
I believe that my personality was allowed to flourish as a child, as my parents did not try to change the way I am. However, that changed when I hit puberty, as my environment and experiences gradually caused me to reject some of my personality. Personally, I feel like there are circumstances that slowly change the way you behave (without you even noticing the change) and singular events that are so impactful you change from one moment to the next. Something I have struggled with during puberty is my femininity, and this has corroded my self-esteem throughout the years.

As a child, I was confident and fearless – what society might call a “tomboy.” The fictional character I looked up to the most and always pretended to be when role-playing with friends was Aragorn from “The Lord of the Rings.” This never felt out-of-place for me until my girl-friends started to become interested in boys, fashion, and make-up. Maybe it was because I went to school one year early, so I was always one step slower in terms of puberty than my classmates, but I felt a strong rejection to their growing expressions of femininity, which I thought was vain, weak, and pretentious. I know now that femininity is not defined by the things society deems “feminine,” but as a teen I thought that I was just different from everyone else and I decided for myself that I would never become like “them.”

This early rejection of my feminine side before it even started to really manifest has led to self-esteem issues for me as I became an adult. I felt a lot of embarrassment whenever I had to wear dresses or skirts, I could not confide in anyone about crushes because I was ashamed of having romantic feelings, and I always pretended not to care when I was actually devastated by my acne-ridden skin. My pride did not allow me to be vulnerable and I was afraid of what others would think of me if I suddenly changed and embraced more feminine attributes.

To this day, I am not sure how everything is related and whether I have fully shed those restraints. Maybe if the portrayals of women in society was different when I grew up, making it easier for me to identify with them as a child, I would not have limited myself from manifesting my true personality. It is difficult to say now, but sharing my experience with other people, especially women of the same age, has helped me unravel these knots from the past. It might be inevitable that some parts of our true personalities are constrained, but to me, realizing this and getting to know my true personality has been one of the most rewarding challenges in life.

How the phrase applies to my environment:
I currently live in Japan and I feel like this phrase really encapsulates the way people are here. Japan is a place with a lot of rules, especially unspoken ones. Each level of society is structured and maintained by people behaving in the same way for generations. If you deviate from the norm, you risk becoming an outcast and living a life filled with obstacles. To blend in with my environment, I had to learn “Keigo,” polite speech that is absolutely necessary when speaking to your superiors/seniors/customers. I find myself keeping a low profile in public to avoid standing out and causing trouble to those around me. When asking for a day-off at work (from my legal holidays), I have to sound apologetic and ask for permission first. Of course, being a foreigner gives me a lot of lee-way for making mistakes and I always have the option of leaving. But for Japanese people who do not have that choice, being too “different” can be social suicide.

There are of course exceptions and pioneers who are pushing the limits of what is acceptable, slowly changing the norm. But for most people, I can imagine that they must change who they are when in public to fit in. It’s also likely that many people never discover their true personalities because they never had the chance to explore and could not afford to make “mistakes.” I can see how this would lead to identity-crises and mental health problems, which could be related to Japan’s high suicide-rate, one of the major social issues of the country.

How the phrase applies to the whole human race:
I believe that a huge part of fitting in is survival, whether that is in prehistoric or modern times. When humans were hunter-gatherers, being part of a group was vital for survival. In modern times, being a part of society is essential for benefitting from it. For the most part, society values people for their capability to contribute to the system, for being a cog in the machine. But if everyone strives to be the perfect citizen, then individuality is diminished and we might as well be clones of one another. In a society with universal free healthcare and basic income, people no longer have to change themselves to survive. We might then see individuality, diversity, and creativity flourish. There will undoubtedly be new problems that we face, but we will also have more individuals and perspectives for finding creative solutions.