Do we know who we really are?
Is that not an unusual question to ask?
“Of course, I know who I am,” you say to yourself.
If you do, write down who you really are in as much detail as you can. Just don’t take more than a day to do it. That’s too much detail. The point is that most of us are not stunned by the question, and we are certainly capable of writing out an answer in a few sentences. You can spend a little time at the beginning with the obvious, but then it gets harder as you focus on your behavior as a human being interacting in unique ways with others in a complex society.
Are you a social human being who seeks out others, talks to them in a warm, friendly and trusting way? Or, do you tend toward being quiet and not especially outgoing. Are you not especially friendly or given to smiling and acknowledging a person who is approaching. Indeed, you may believe you have limited social skills, and that you do not really want to stop and talk to someone, even if you know them.
You may preoccupied in thought. Indeed, you mental life may be what you value about yourself. You may be a thinker who tends to view social interactions as something less important when you compare them with what’s going on in your head. Indeed, when you are working through a problem of some importance, you may want as little social interaction as you can get away with. You may hide at home, or perhaps in a quiet place if you live with others. You do not even answer the phone and sometimes not even a knock at the door.
On the other hand, if you value social and close personal relationships, you may at least find a way to acknowledge those who intrude. You will answer the phone or the door, but you will likely quietly, politely and briefly explain that you are preoccupied. They may want to help but you can usually just say thanks but it’s something you just have to think about. It’s not personal and doesn’t involve others, but when you get to where you think you can or need to talk about it with others, they will be the first to know.
In other words, you are at ease in developing social trust with others. If you follow this route, eventually you will, in fact, need to talk about what you’ve been thinking about with others or they may become concerned about why they didn’t appear to be part of your inner circle.
This is a direct way of handling things. You might have denied that anything was wrong or that you were thinking about some deep problem. You can hold onto your autonomy and still allow relationships with others to come through, but in a more trivial way. You may just make small talk, and keep your other thoughts to yourself. This may be hard to pull off. If you never confide in others in more than a trivial way, you will appear as a cold fish who is swimming along, every once in a while blurting out a few inconsequential bubbles as you move.
Somewhere there is a happy middle ground. You are capable of independent autonomous thought, though you can share ideas with others while developing deeper and more personal relationships. You are independent and thoughtful, but not so much so that you are incapable of personal or social relationships with others. Alternatively, you may be incapable of thinking through anything without significant help from your social group.
In the first instance, if you lose your social focus it may not matter, you’ll survive. In the second case, if you lose your social peers you’re lost. You may not survive or you may have to draw on inner strength you didn’t really know you had. Unhappily, making your way through that world may be more complex than you would like.
You may think of yourself as possessing tendencies that others may not see as clearly. You are, in your mind, the one who you think you are. But this may not be the person who others desire or see you to be. We think that we are reasonably honest with ourselves and with others but that is not always so. Both you and the others will see you in a way that is close in description, but not identical. The closer we are to real honesty, the closer we are to understanding that the person you are is the person others see.
This comes from a long honest interactions that demonstrate real social trust. Where there may be little or no trust others who mot know who you are. They are confused, and no bond of trust is formed between you.
Unhappily, this may be occurring increasingly when we are in functional overload, when we are all working too hard and we have no time for one-another. The work of the world may indeed come first from time to time. We may be so busy with it that we cannot unwrap ourselves and rebuild the bonds of social trust and community that allow enhanced quality of life.
This has to change. We do not have to spend all of our time being there for one another, but we need to redevelop significant social trust and community such that nations, and indeed, the world can survive and thrive. We have to give more of our attention to such matters. Ultimately, who we think we are and who others think we are must be integrated into a third view which is who we actually are.