Define Define

The phrase, “It doesn’t define me”, has been bandied about a lot recently. So I wondered about the definition of “being defined”.

The definitions I’ve found from various sources list define as: to explain, stipulate, mark out the boundary or limits of, determine, establish, designate, stipulate.  None of those definitions did anything to explain this common use of being defined until I saw: give value, give meaning.

So I’ve been wondering, do the dog show ribbons on my training wall define me (give value, give meaning) as to who I am? I hope they don’t.  They are merely measurements for the criteria required for that particular level of training.  Do my dogs “define me”?  In a way, yes, they do, but I’ve found when meeting new neighbors that I’m not so much defined as labeled as “that dog lady”.  But nowhere in the dictionary is there a synonym for define as being labeled.

Dreams are what guide us, art is what defines us, math is what makes it all possible, and love is what lights our way.’ Mike Norton, www.goodreads.com

The quote above spoke to me about how art defines us, using the definition that it gives us value and meaning. No matter how artistic each of us is or how hidden it is in our soul, art defines and speaks to us.  How true and an excellent example on the phrase, “defines us”.

A long time ago I saw a Facebook video about a handicapped woman who said her health issue didn’t define her, not understanding at the time exactly what or how she meant what she said. Now I realize that some people who have either hidden illnesses, like heart problems, or visible issues, like weight problems, are definitely not defined by it but are often labeled by it.  We hear people mark out boundaries or limitations for others health issues because of their perceived need to label or put someone into a box, which is totally unfair.

If I may use myself as an example, my lack of facial beauty has always been an obvious “problem” (for lack of a better word). Does it define me?  Hell no.  I do not give my loss at losing the genetic lottery as defining (giving it value or meaning or limiting) me.  Labels could define me if I let them but I learned a long time ago to be stronger and more independent in spite of being butt ugly.  So when I hear or read someone say angrily that something does not define them, I feel their anger but I believe their anger is giving power to whatever they are fighting and is therefore limiting them.

In my quest to define define, I urge people to speak beyond the phrase. It begs the question, “Explain yourself.  If something doesn’t define you, what does?”

The next time someone uses that phrase, that something doesn’t define them, ask them for clarification. You may be enlightened about that person.  What do you think?

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