This April I travelled through Morocco with some three Italians, one of them being a very dear friend of mine. Although we see each other only once a year we share a deep connection built on our shared love for nature and drive to improve our world. During our regular calls we discuss new projects, insights and exchange philosophi cal thoughts. All of us met up in Marrakesh and after a day exploring the city we started with our small rental car towards the mighty Atlas mountain range.
By Marius Wiggert
The next day we woke up by the call of a muezzin from the nearby village. We got started at dawn and due to the lack of accurate hiking maps in our area we picked the coolest looking mountain and just started hiking towards it. After a while cross-country hiking we actually found a trail that seemed like a former military trail, now only used by shepherds. Following our knowledge that the Atlas is rich in minerals we started trying to crack spherical stones to find geodesists. And after throwing about a hundred stones, we indeed found a white-blue geodesist.
The next day we drove along the valley of Telouet to Aid-Ben-Haddou, following a river. The southern side of the Atlas Mountains revealed a tremendously different landscape: instead of lush green there were dry, ocher rocks and the green area was limited to a stretch of less than 100m around the only river flowing through the valley. This sharp contrast of dry desert and the small green area made me deeply feel the vulnerability of life here in the desert.
The contrast between the dry desert and small green land showed me the vulnerability of life.
These villages are dependent on the river which in turn is dependent on the snow melting in the Atlas Mountains and the respiration of the river along the way. This means if the temperature due to climate change goes up respiration increases non-linearly. This could lead to the river slowly but surely dying and with it the culture that has flourished on its side for centuries. It further emphasized the dependency of any form of human civilization on water and the dangerous game humanity is playing by polluting our environment.
While heading towards the desert to experience stargazing and wild camping I read the culture section of the Lonely Planet which explained an aspect of Moroccan culture that astounded us. The first questions locals ask are related to one’s family: Where is your family? Do you have a wife and children? What is your mother and father working?
The proposed explanation was that in Moroccan Culture, your family or clan say more about you than your hobbies or studies do. Following this seems to me to imply that their identity is also strongly bounded on to their family.
Reflecting on this led me to think about where I draw my identity from. If I’d have to describe to someone what my essence is, I wouldn’t start describing myself as the son of my parents thereby relating to my family tree. I feel like I would rather draw my identity from my mindset and attitude towards life: the Parkour mindset of always challenging myself; focusing on creatively expressing myself; a love for nature and adventures; a curiosity and yearning for understanding political, cultural, environmental effects and systems; a strive to make a positive contribution to the world.
While hiking through the desert I further discussed this thought with my dear Italian friend and as we dug deeper we found that there’s a normative and a descriptive answer to the question of where one draws one’s identity from. The descriptive perspective is what we’re currently identifying with which might not necessarily be a good thing to identify with. For example, people spending hours in the gym to train their body to look perfect might strongly identify with their looks and the attention they get from others. From my side I have to admit that I also identify with my performance, professionally and academically. Needing external signals (such as attention or good grades) makes one dependent on others and susceptible to personal crisis if the external signal is not coming.
Which leads to the normative perspective of the things we want and should identify with. But what are good things to identify with and which ones are not? What metric shall we use to measure that? I suggest the metric of utility in the form of continuous happiness and confidence we can draw from the things we identify with. In my opinion and leaning on the ancient Stoic Philosophers things like fame, money, looks, or attention are not good things to identify with. They are external which makes us dependent on and susceptible to others´opinion.
I believe the things we should identify ourselves with in order to achieve continuous happiness and confidence are rather internal aspects of our character. Although I also see the value in identifying with the ones we love, like our partners, children, close friends or parents as it creates closer bonds and intimacy which also leads to happiness and confidence.
Pondering further on this made me also realize how the things we identify with shape our interactions and relationships with others. The reason why I feel a deeper connection with some of my friends than with others is that I understand what they identify with and thereby know what’s important to them. I believe that this can help us create better relationships. While this process of getting to know the deeper aspects of another person up to now happened mainly unconsciously and over a long period of time, I now try to shortcut this and ask directly:
“What are the things you identify with, where do you draw your identity from?”
We had a great night camping in the desert and spent quite a while discussing these ideas around our small bonfire. These thoughts are still very present in my head and maybe sharing them stimulates to think more carefully about where you and the people around you come from.