The Radical Hypothesis: You Don't Know Who You Are
After all...if you weren't who you think you are, how would you know?
Do you know who you are?
Most folks, when they're asked the question "Do you know who you are?" tend to get a little mad and answer something like this:
"What the...? Seriously? Yes, of course I know who I am!"
But when the response is something like "Okay, then . . . who are you?"
- then answers can often start wearing a little thin. (From this point, it usually isn't too long before they land on one idea or name (and it usually is either a name or an idea of some kind) and just start repeating. And they can't go any further.)
So most folks really think they know who they are.
But maybe, just maybe, most folks are wrong on this.
But maybe not. So to try to get down to the bottom of all this,
we, your fearless, dedicated, and ever-so cuddly LiveReal Agents
decided to offer a few thought experiments
for us all to have fun with...
There's a saying along the lines of "I'm going to have to consult my conscience on this."
If something called a "conscience" is something that has to be "consulted" with, what does that mean about the rest of the time - are we not in consultation with it?
Think of a phrase we often use: "self-control."
In this sense . . . are you the self that is controlling, or the self that is being controlled?
Think of a phrase we often use: "self-discipline."
Are you the self that is "disciplined," or are you the self that is giving (or should be giving) the discipline?
Think of another phrase we use too often: "self-esteem"
Are you the self that is esteeming, or are you the self that is being esteemed?
Or another common phrase: "I need to do some soul-searching."
If we were really in touch with our "soul" - seemingly what is most clearly and immediately us - doesn't that presume that we're coming from a place of, to some degree, not "being in touch with" our own soul?
Why is it such a cliche - that is muttered by almost everyone at some point, even the poets of big-hair 80's rock bands: "Don't know what you've got . . . till it's gone"? If we really know who we are (and ergo what we've got, while we've got it)...then why is this saying so common, and so often, so true?
Or another cliche - "You need to appreciate what you've got, while you've got it" (as if, normally, you don't?)
Or another cliche - "Be here now!" (as if you normally aren't? If not, why does does this even need to be said?)
Why do insults - verbal insults - so often hurt us? Why are we afraid of being called a certain name, or described in a certain way? Why do words even "hurt" us at all?
Could it be that, perhaps, if someone calls us a jerk, on some level we're afraid that we actually are a jerk? Could it be that, if someone calls us a name - or defines us in a particular way - we're afraid that they may be right - that we may actually be what they're calling us - because we aren't actually sure of who we are?
It seems that compared to every single other person on the planet, we should know the sound of our own voice better than literally anyone. After all, every single time we mutter a word, we're there to hear it. Yet...why is it typical that the first time - or even any time - we hear ourselves recorded, we say "That doesn't sound like me!"?
Why is it that, according to a recent study of 11,000 people, "only one out of every four "low-carb dieters" "are actually significantly cutting carbs"?
Why do historians say that we can only understand some things only long after they've happened? (Eg, "You can't begin to really assess a presidency with any sort of objectivity until they've been out of office for years...") Ergo...if something is happening right here, right now, according to a historian, we can't really understand it with any sort of objectivity. And then wouldn't, on a smaller scale, the same thing be true about our lives?
Why is it that things like parachute pants, neon shoelaces, afros, movies made before the 1960's, Wham videos - essentially, things that now seem utterly ridiculous to us - only seem ridiculous to us now, decades later . . . when back then, they actually seemed cool?
Do you take personality tests? Do you take quizzes in Cosmo, Self, or msn.com? Why? - especially if you already know "who you are"?
One might think that parents ought to know their own children better than anyone else in the world. Yet if this is the case, why is it that a recent study suggests that "Parents don't see obesity in their children," and "A third of mothers and 57 percent of dads actually saw their obese child as normal"?
Why is it that often we can solve everyone else's problems . . . but not our own?
Why is it that we're often so terrified of "intimacy"? Could it be that during moments of intimacy, when we're vulnerable, another person sees us in a way that we don't see ourselves . . . and so it threatens our idea of who we are?
Think of the people who are in the "other" political party, the one you're not in, the party/parties you're against. They seem to think they know who they are (nice, patriotic, good, honest folks) - but you see them for who they really are - lying, cheating, no-good dirty rats. So then, in your view, it's safe to say that you think they don't know who they really are. (And, most likely, they see you the same way).
Folks often do things they regret later, or even say "I don't know why I did that" or "I don't know what came over me." Why?
In the movie "The Sixth Sense," most of the main characters in the movie didn't "know who they were" (dead people who didn't know they were dead...)
Why is it that girls can often see - clearly, plainly, and obviously - what a total jerk their friends' boyfriend is . . . yet are utterly and completely blind about the jerk they're dating?
If we all know who we are, why are personality tests - MMPI, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, etc, etc so popular?
In many marriages - even happy ones - many folks eventually confess that "I had know idea who I was really marrying." Is is possible not just that they didn't know who their spouse was . . . but that the spouse themselves didn't know who they were themselves?
Why do so many of us - actors, everyone at Halloween, and especially young children - love pretending to be somebody else?
"Addicts" - alcoholics, drug users, couch potatoes - are notorious for being in "denial," a state where everyone around them know that they're an addict . . . except for them. In other words, everyone around them apparently knows them better than they know themselves. So, do any people around you think that you're in denial, about anything? Is there a chance that they know who you are better than you know yourself?
Why is it that psychics can know secrets about other people . . . but can't do it for themselves?
Consider moments when somebody calls you a name - Say somebody calls you "Stinkyface." It hurts your feelings. If you know who you are - if you know that you are truly not a "Stinkyface" - why does it hurt your feelings? (Maybe . . . aside from the hurt of somebody thinking bad of you, you also have your feelings hurt because of the possibility that you really suspect that you might really be a Stinkyface).
Think of your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/best friends, and their most annoying, irritating habits that drive you crazy. Chances are that they do something you consider "irrational" which they won't stop doing it. Is there a chance that, at least in this way, you would claim to know them better than they know themselves? . . . and would they say the same thing about you?
Do you read astrology? Is it just because you want to, say, predict the future, or find out if you're destined for either love or years of loneliness . . . or could it be because you don't know who you are, and want to find out?
If you work in an office, think of all your office-mates/coworkers. Now think of all the gossip, stories, annoying habits, secrets, and talk you've heard about them. Most likely, what folks talk about in the office regard actions/annoying habits/personality traits that the other folks (the ones being gossiped about) don't know they have - they're totally blind to it. So then, in your view, it's safe to say that you think they - most of your office-mates - don't really know who they are.
A key ingredient of good movies entails us identifying with one of the characters in the movie. Most of us really enjoy going to good movies. Why do we enjoy pretending - even if we know it's a complete fantasy - that we're somebody else?
"If you were to sit down and have a candid conversation
with that aspect of yourself which is not intoxicated with wrong-knowing,
you would be told that the person you think you are
is no more closely related to what you really are than anyone else.
Not only are you not you,
you bear no resemblance to you
and have no relationship to you."
- Jed McKinna
Why has the Army had so much success with the slogan "Be all that you can be?" Is there some sense that people have that somehow, they aren't "all that they can be?" And why is it that more specific phrases - "Do more than you can do" or "Do different things than you're doing now" or "Earn money for college" - isn't nearly as inspiring?
Why is it that people who we think are really crazy actually think they're sane, and it's everyone else who is crazy?
Why is "human potential" such an interesting, powerful phrase? Evidently, many folks sense that we are able to do or become much more, somehow, than we currently are?
Many folks buy very expensive, super-fancy clothes, cars, houses, watches, socks, etc? Why? Many folks say that they're trying to "prove" something - that they're important, superior, rich, are high-status, that they matter, that they're somebody, etc? If they actually are important, superior, high-status, if they truly do matter, etc etc . . . why do they need to "prove" it?
Socrates is still respected today, over 2,500 years after he died, as a wise man. What did he do? He went around questioning folks who thought they were wise, and exposing that they actually weren't as wise as they thought - in other words, that they thought that they were something they actually weren't. (they killed him for this). Would it be safe to say, then, that the folks Socrates questioned, then, didn't know who they were?
The Oracle of Delphi, who was no slouch as far as intelligence goes - in fact, was widely believed to be the spokesperson for gods - said "Know Thyself" - and in fact, believed it so strongly that it was carved in marble in the Temple. If we actually already know ourselves . . . then why did the Oracle feel the need to do that?
Why is it that the proper chance, an eye - like what you're staring out of right now - can, given the proper instruments, see everything in the universe . . . except for itself?(It can see a reflection of itself, say, in a mirror - but that's not really itself, it's a reflection).
Given the proper chance, an ear can hear everything in the universe . . . except for itself. (Again, it can possibly hear a recording of itself, but that's not it, but a recording.)
Many folks think they know who they are, and define themselves by their job, their status, their school grades, etc. Then, when they lose their jobs, lose their status, make bad grades . . . they get depressed or even commit suicide . . . why? Could it be that they realized, when they lost those things, that they weren't who they thought they were?
Let's pretend that you fall asleep. In your sleep, you dream of a beautiful, incredible symphony playing breathtakingly gorgeous music. You wake up, and the music is still ringing in your ears. You then write the music down, and make millions as a famous composer. Are you really the composer of the music, or are you, in a way, part of the audience?
Why have certain folks - who are not unintelligent individuals, to put it mildly - made the following statements:
"A human being
. . . experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings
as something separated from the rest,
a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness..."
- Albert Einstein
"I dreamt I was a butterfly
Now I am not sure
if I am a man dreaming I was a butterfly
or a butterfly
dreaming I am a man."
- Chuang Tzu
"One must become
who one is!"
"Resolve to be thyself;
and know that he who finds himself
loses his misery."
- Matthew Arnold
"I wanted only to live in accord
with the promptings which came from my true self.
Why was that so very difficult?"
- Hermann Hesse
"There is no human being on earth
capable of declaring with certitude who he is.
No one knows what he has come into this world to do,
what his acts correspond to, his sentiments, his ideas,
or what his real name is, his enduring Name in the register of Light . . .
History is an immense liturgical text where the iotas and the dots
are worth no less than the entire verses or chapters,
but the importance of one and the other
is indeterminable and profoundly
- Jorge Luis Borges
"It is as hard to see one's self
as to look backwards
without turning around."
- Henry David Thoreau
"Why do you need to meditate?
To know yourself.
Why do you need to "know yourself"?
Because what you are at present -
what you think you are -
is not yourself.
That's why you, and most people -
are never really content for long:
you know, unconsciously,
that you are not yourself.
Consequently, you feel insecure, uncertain, and even afraid.
Inside you is a wonderful, helpful, loving, and uniquely creative being.
You know it . . . at least sometimes.
But that loving, creative "you"
is very difficult to externalize and bring into the world . . ."
- Barry Long
So if there is a chance that, in a way,
"we don't really know who we are" . . .
Well, it seems like not knowing who you are . . . is a problem.
And the solution to that problem is . . .
well, finding out who you are.
And how do you find out "who you really are"?
Well, of course, that's what folks call "the spiritual quest."
And what does the "spiritual quest" entail?
Well, you probably already know the answer to that, and don't need to know what we think about it. But if you are interested in something else that's kind of fun, one cool something we've found is some experiments to try...