First Existential Paper

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Existential Paper: My Past Self

Existentialism was a current of philosophy developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It focused attention on human existence. One important theme in existentialism is that of time. Paul Ricoeur argues that any philosophical model for understanding human existence must employ a composite temporal framework. As self-conscious beings, we have a past, a present, and a future. We can relive the past and project our lives into the future. A fundamental existential question is “who am I?” As temporal beings, we can narrate our past and present and project our future in a narrative.

This exercise is designed to help you develop a clearer sense of your past, by writing your own story. It helps you answer the philosophical question: “Where have I come from?”

Understanding the defining moments of your life can help to illuminate your present situation (and your attempt to answer to the philosophical question: Who am I?), and make it easier to plan and determine your future direction (Who do I want to be?).

Writing is a sophisticated form of thinking. Thinking prepares you to perceive properly and act intelligently. If you don’t think things through, particularly difficult things, then you are likely to make serious mistakes and to hurt yourself and other people. When you write about personally important matters, you can start to identify the causes of events that might hurt and damage you. You can begin to understand how you might have to change the way you see and think to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

You are encouraged to mine the information that the past provides to ensure that the present and future emerge positively and productively.

Recommended length for this activity is 3 pages or 1500 words.

How should you go about writing?

  • First, it is recommended to divide your life into five to seven different time periods or “epochs.” These epochs can be as short or as long as you want. One epoch might be “early childhood,” “elementary school,” “middle school,” “junior high,” “senior year in high school,” or “first year university.”
  • Next, identify the significant experiences that characterized each of the five to seven epochs and write about them.
  • Third, analyze how each of these experiences has shaped who you are today and record your thoughts.

Some questions that can be helpful throughout the paper:

  • Where have I come from? Where was I born?
  • What do I know about my family history and heritage? How has this history shaped my upbringing?
  • Who is part of my family? How have they influenced me?
  • What culture did I grow up in? What are the fundamental aspects of my culture? What do I most appreciate in my culture? What do I least appreciate?
  • Why do I believe what I believe? How has religion or the lack of religion impacted my life?
  • What words describe my ancestors, grandparents, and / or parents?
  • What did I learn or inherit from my family?
  • Which friends, relatives, relationships, or classmates influenced me the most?
  • What has brought me the most joy or happiness? Why?
  • What has caused me the most suffering and pain? Why?
  • What are the characteristics of my generation? How do I think my generation differs from the Baby-Boomers (1946-1964); Generation X (1961-1981); and the Millennials (1977-1996)? What would I call my generation?
  • What are the generations in my culture called (if they differ from the ones listed)?
  • Why did I choose to study at Gannon? How did my past shape this decision?
  • How have I lived the first quarter of my life?
  • How did my family’s economic status affect me?
  • What have I appreciated or valued the most growing up?
  • How did I spend my time growing up?
  • What are your most important values?
  • What values did you try to instill in me?
  • What is the meaning of life for you?
  • What are your hopes / dreams for me?
  • What brings you the most happiness in life?
  • What advice have you always wanted to tell me?

Write / call / text your parents and ask them questions like:

Please make sure that your name is on the document that you upload. Please do not share anything that you are uncomfortable with sharing in a public forum.

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