I have a very unassuming, quick-response question.
Don’t ponder the answer; just blurt it out. Ready? (Um, that’s not the question.)
Here we go: “Who are you?”
At first blush, it’s such an innocuous query and our replies come by rote. We provide our name. But, in reality, that’s not accurate, because my name is not WHO I am, it’s WHAT I am called; it’s a label.
Okay, take it down a level: Who is — in my case — Scott Marcus?
Well, I could reply, “a man,” “father,” or even “American.” Those are all true — and actually more descriptive than responding with my name. They deliver more detail, but are still painfully vague. One person’s “man” creates images of football players, while another’s is an accountant, neither of which fit me. Piling on additional descriptors becomes the next step, “56 year old speaker, writer, father of two sons, married, lives in Eureka.”
Certainly this constructs a more vibrant portrayal, but it is still soooooo scratching the surface. For example, should I move from my coastal community to the Arizona desert, would I then be a different person? Better yet, am I still the same person I was a few years ago, or do every 365 days establish a new being?
Circumstances change, but that alone does not mean we are no longer who we were; there is a consistency that remains our core. These modifiers therefore, no matter how many we use, are not answering the core issue. Something lacks.
So, why does this matter?
Words, the vehicle by which we think, create images, which we call “perceptions.” Each of us develops reflex like responses to those perceptions. So, should I say “filthy rich man” or “homeless woman,” we create immediately an image in our mind about who are each of those people. (I know you did when you read them, as did I.) The hitch is we do not see “individuals;” what we envision are our perceptions of that class of society. Should you be strolling through Old Towne and view someone you perceive to be, for example, a “homeless man,” you create an entire story in your head, BEFORE even meeting him.
This process is not only in action when we see — and label — others.
The words we tap to describe who we are to ourselves affect the images we see about us, portrayed externally to others via our resultant actions.
If I inquire of myself, “Who am I?” And the reply comes: “A clumsy, stupid, moron who cannot do anything right,” I create powerful internal imagery, which in turn, generates an emotional state. Those emotions drive our actions. Logically, therefore, if the language is negative, so too will be its result.
More happily, if my answer is, “A fully-functioning, basically happy, honest, caring, contributing member of society whose doing the best he can to love others, make the world a better place, and take care of himself as well as he can;” those result feelings, and their actions, will be vastly different. (Saying each answer to yourself and notice how you feel.)
When greeted at a party, that answer might not be appropriate. However, we’ll experience a far healthier and happier life when we can learn to answer our own internal questions in a more positive fashion.