In the lead up to the TEDxExeter 2013 event on the theme of “Living the Questions”, we are planning a series of questionings, inquiries and interrogations. We hope they will trigger new reflections and lines of thought for you. If among our ponderings, ratiocinations and ruminations we do happen to stumble upon any answers, we cannot guarantee that they will be your answers. By all means add your tu’p’orth in the comments.
An easy one to get things started: Who am I?
Well, I could just answer: “I am the TEDxExeter storyteller”. But there, blam! Right away I have identified with a role and made myself less than I am. It’s the same when you are making polite small-talk , and they say: “I am a lawyer”, or “I am a teacher”. Is that all? “I practise law as a profession”, is maybe admirable, but “I am a lawyer”? No.
Or I could answer: “I am a white educated middle-class woman”, and slap any number of labels on myself. And your understanding of me would crash in a morass of preconceptions and a pile of baggage. At TEDxExeter 2012, Satish Kumar spoke brilliantly about his peace pilgrimage as a human being: “If I had walked as an Indian, I would have met a Pakistani… If I had walked as a Hindu, I would have met a Muslim… If I had gone as a socialist, I would have met a capitalist. I did not take any of those labels. I said ‘I’m going to go as a human being’, and I met human beings everywhere… Our primary identity is the identity that we are members of the human community.”
Type “Who am I?” into Google, and you can find out more about the Jackie Chan 1998 film of that name. Also, two more questions pop up: What makes you uniquely you? and Who am I meant to be?
The Science Museum’s website says that it’s Who am I? gallery provides insights into genetics and brain science. These may explain why I am unique, begging the nature-nurture question, but they cannot tell me who I am. Nor is Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” enough. I am not just a product of my thought processes, a mind in isolation from my body, emotions, will or soul.
If I watch my emotions as a detached observer, I can see how they change like the clouds that float on high, and how meaningless it is to say “I am depressed” or “I am happy”. I might be feeling depressed right now, or full of happiness, but it will pass. The cloud will float by.
Likewise, I am not my body. I have a body, and possessing is a fundamental aspect of my existence, but I must not confuse having with being. Despite the insistence of most media and advertising.
As for Oprah’s “Who am I meant to be?” let’s at least try and stay in the present (quite apart from the can of worms that that “meant” opens). “Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past” wrote RS Thomas.
So who am I?