Monday, March 7, 2011
Who Are You?
I have signed up for match.com, eharmony, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter; I have started a blog, been interviewed, endured first dates, gotten to know new colleagues, introduced myself in a small group, talked to people on the street. All of these encounters start with, or even have as their entire purpose, describing who I am.
Who I am, or who I say I am, depends on who I'm talking to and who's hearing what I have to say. To my daughter's teachers and friends' parents, I am the mom. To my parents' friends, I am the daughter. To people at work, I am a litigator. To courts, I am representing so-and-so client. To people at church, I am the lawyer who helped start the legal aid ministry. To the people at the oil change place, I am the person with the Nissan. We all define ourselves by relating ourselves to something or someone else. You were the star of your high school football team. You the the woman who walks with a limp. You are the guy who got the last promotion. You are the woman who aced her SATs. You are the one who got an A on the impossible biology test. You speak French. You have four kids. You are married to a great guy. You live in a small town. You are single. You are divorced. You are a Republican. You are a Democrat. You read literary classics. You read romance novels. You buy books. You go to the library. You are the one who takes your recyclable bags to Jewel. You are unemployed. You are on disability. You are undocumented. You are overweight. You are never skinny enough. You make a lot of money. You got the best review this year. You have a Porsche. You have a Cobalt. You have an Apple. You have a PC.
When we answer questions about who we are, it is more like answering questions about what stuff we have, where we live, what we have achieved, where we have been, and who we know. What stuff we have says how successful we are. Where we live says how successful we are. What we have achieved says how successful we are. Where we have been says how successful we are. Who we know says. . . well, how successful we are. All of these things identify how we identify ourselves and how we allow people to understand who we are. How we allow ourselves to understand who we are.
This weekend, I started thinking about who I am if all that I have and all who I know go away. If I was not employed, had no home, had no daughter, no parents, no relationships, no things. Would I still say, I am a lawyer? I used to have a job. I had a home. I was a parent. I had parents. I was loved by this person. I had a storage space full of things. I had boxes in my garage of pictures and stuffed animals and candle holders and beer mugs. If I had nothing at all, would I still say what I have is who I am? Do I only describe myself today as liking wine and movies and coffee and being near the water because I have those things and access to them? In answering the "my favorite things" or "things I can't live without" sections on the latest social network, what would I say if I had nothing? "None"? Or would I say my favorite things are: a safe place to hide; clean sheets; a blanket; a day free from foot pain? In other words, would I still describe who I am based on what I have or do not have? Probably.
Trying to figure out who I would be without all the stuff and people that currently surround me is just another way of trying to figure out who I am today. If I really am only what surrounds me at a particular point in time, then I am nothing at all. If I am what exists only outside of me, then I am constantly shifting and amoeba-ish. I become what my circumstances are. When I look in the mirror, I will see only all the stuff and people reflected behind me and I'll start to think that that stuff and my relationships are me.
I am afraid of what I will find if all the stuff behind me in the mirror is not there and all I had to look at is me. What if there is truly nothing at the core? Nothing holding it all together? Isn't this what we are all afraid of and why we constantly seek to fill the core with stuff and people and knowledge? What if we take a close look, slow down enough to stop all the noise? If you stopped filling your head and your life with news and books and stories and people and work and i-pods and tweets and Facebook news updates and achievements and dates and drinks and food, what would be there? What is there when all that you are in reference to is gone? How would you describe yourself if you had nothing to use but what is on the inside as a reference?
Who are you?