Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Question of Identity (Cardboard, Vol. 2)

If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people. -Virginia Woolf

All too often, we try to pigeonhole someone we've just met based on first impressions or a handful of interactions.  Yet we feel we ourselves are more complex, that we deserve more credit than this.  Unconsciously, we propogate the simplicity though, saying "i'm an accountant" or "i'm a mother" or something else on a list.  We have aided and abetted the misnomer. . . .

Once upon a time, God was chillin' in a burning bush when Moses asked, "Who are You?"  God didn't toss out a job title or a family role; He didn't even really name Himself.  He gave Moses an answer far more complex:  "I am who I am. . . . I AM has sent you" (Exodus 3).

Perhaps I took the movie The Ten Commandments too much to heart.  When I was in elementary school, my teachers gave creative writing assignments with apparently simple questions like "who are you?"  With truly obnoxious glee I would turn to someone and say, "I am Valonna; I am me."  As far as I was concerned, that was answer enough, but I knew the teachers wanted more, so I provided paragraph upon paragraph of information.  Information that could have been applied to any other elementary-aged kid.  To read these juvenile descriptions was not to meet me.  They briefed someone on my hobbies, but didn't show them who I was.

In some cultures (some Native American ones for instance), parents don't name their children for days, months, even years.  Their reasoning is this:  when the baby is born, they do not know this new person, what they like/dislike, how they interact with the world, what feats they will accomplish.  The parents in these societies watch and wait to name the children, and when that name is revealed or earned, it means much more to answer the question, "who are you?" with a name.  The person has their history tied up inside the sounds of their name.  They give their name, and they give a portion of their identity.

But it's still not who they are.

Who are you that is not merely a name, a job title, a family role?  Who are you besides introvert or extravert, ethnicity or religion?  Who are you beyond your height, eye color, and other vital statistics?  Where are you coming from, and where does that have you headed?  What experiences have been so much built into you that they are you?

According to the Gestalt Theory, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Do you think maybe there is some essense that makes you you and no one else?  You are more than you think you are.  Are you so busy trying to tell people who you are that you forget that extra little piece?  Do your descriptions easily apply to any other person in your demographic set?

Or maybe you're waiting to know who you're dealing with before you reveal who you are.  Wearing a mask in the meantime.  It's comforting to wait in the wings until you know how the play is going, plotting out the perfect moment to make your entrance.  Once we know the players, we decide who we are.  Which begs the question:  if you decide who you are based on who you're with, how do you know who you are?

Evey Hammond: Who are you?
V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask.
Evey Hammond: Well I can see that.
V: Of course you can. I'm not questioning your powers of observation I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.
Evey Hammond: Oh. Right.
V: But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona.