We spend so much of lives trying to define who we are but, in the end, can we really answer the question “Who are you?”. All the definitions we make are just shadows. The real qualities that define us are being missed. Let’s explore a little to see how weak our standard definitions of ourselves really are.
Ways we define ourselves
In the societies in which we live, we have constructed a myriad of ways to define, evaluate and classify people. In general, we’re not even aware that we’ve done it, it just feels normal. Here are just a few of the mechanisms we use to define who we are;
- The schools we went to
- The grades we achieved
- The profession we practice
- The salary and wealth we’ve accumulated
- Our proficiency at sport
- Our possessions – house, cars, etc.
- The clubs we’re members of
- Our height
- Our weight
- Our hair style
- The clothes we choose to wear
And I’m sure you can all come up with dozens and dozens of others.
Just think about another person you don’t know that well and consider how you’d describe them to somebody else, and I think you’ll realise that you’ll use measures like the ones above to define them. Is that fair?
What if we took all the definitions away?
One by one, we can discard each classification of a person. For example, we can say that we don’t care about the salary, wealth and possessions of other people. This might be easier to say than actually do, but just imagine that we can truly do that. Now we truly don’t care how much salary, wealth and possessions other people have and hence we don’t consider it or use it to classify and define other people. Now, have they changed at all?
Of course the people haven’t changed just because we’ve changed the way we classify and define them. We can do this thought experiment with all of the measures we use to define other people and we can quickly see they are all meaningless.
Even if we take away all the ways we use to judge people, the people themselves haven’t changed at all.
So what is it that defines the real person? It must be much deeper than these superficial judgment tools that we’ve constructed. Maybe all people have a value much more intrinsic than we commonly think.
What if we took more away than that?
Now let’s go a little more extreme. Obviously we see other people as bodies and we have many judging tools designed to compare and evaluate bodies. So, what happens if we remove a person’s arm? Does the person become less of a friend because they are missing an arm? Are they less of a mother to her children? Do they have less capacity to love?
Of course not. They are still the same friend, mother and loving person that they were before they lost an arm. Maybe they are more limited in the things they can do, but the real person is not linked to their arm.
We can carry this on ever further and consider what happens if a person loses both arms, both legs, their hair and their ears. A bit extreme, I know, but I’m sure you can see that my argument is that the person is still the same friend, mother and loving person they were before, just highly limited in the physical things they can do.
We see this all the time actually. Somebody gets badly disfigured in an accident and their friends and family keep loving them just the same, because they know who they are.
That’s the key. Knowing who somebody really is is not linked to their bodies.
Classifying close friends and family
When we’re trying to describe somebody we don’t really know, we might well say something like “the tall man with red hair, wearing a blue jacket”, but when describing somebody we really know well, it’s more likely to be things like “he’s really kind”, “she’s the most loving person I know” or “such a sweet soul”.
Isn’t in interesting that when we get to know somebody, we use non-physical ways to describe them? I think this clearly shows that the non-physical characteristics of a person are the real keys to who they are. Even if you don’t like somebody, you might describe them as “a very nasty man” or “a person with a mean streak”. The physical is still not important.
The real person is non-physical. The way they physically appear is not the real “them”.
No comes the hard part.
If the physical appearance is not the real person, then let’s stop judging people on their appearance. Easier to say than do, but it makes complete sense.
Next, if somebody is acting mean or nasty, is it because they are really mean or nasty, or is it because they are having a hard time and desperately trying to defend themselves? It’s almost certainly (and I don’t really mean the “almost”) the latter. They need our understanding and friendship, not our condemnation.
So can we give up being judgmental and just accept everyone in the way they are making themselves appear to be at the moment? It would be a better world if we could.
All people have the same capacity
So this gets me to my final point.
All people have the same capacity to be kind and loving.
That’s it. That’s the key. Sure, not everyone shows this capacity, but everyone has it. That’s what defines a person worth. Everyone has the capacity to be kind to you and to love you, hence they have something very special. Since everyone has this same capacity, everyone is equally important. Nothing else matters.
Even if someone is victimising you at the moment, can we see that this is a mistake they are making and that they really have the capacity to be kind and loving? With this in mind, can we extend kindness and love towards them? Sure, that would be really hard, but it is possible and I’m sure most of us highly respect the few people we know who have achieved this state.
To accept everyone as equally valuable might be very hard, especially for people that annoy our socks off, but it is possible and it’s actually quite easy. It doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t take any physical effort, it’s just a state of mind.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment below or send me an email. I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks!
P.S. #1 – Who are you?
Here’s another interesting thing to consider. When did you become you? Was it at the moment you left your mother’s womb? At the moment the sperm entered the egg? The moment you were a four-cell organism? The moment you were a one-month fetus?
When you think this way, notice how hard it is to tie “you” down to your physical state?
P.S. #2 – Who are you? – the song
All the time I was writing this article I could hear the word of The Who song “Who are you?”, especially the following lines;
Oh tell me who are you?
I really wanna know
Oh I really wanna know
Oh tell me who are you, you, you, ah you?
I wonder if we’re more able to answer these questions after considering this article. I hope so.