Who are you? – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/04/19/who-are-you/

“Who are you?”

I did an exercise once where I was asked that question repeatedly for 7 minutes.  “Who are you?”  “I’m Alex.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m a white male.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m a counselor.”  “Who are you?” etc.

This exercise may sound really frustrating.  I was in a room with roughly 150 people all doing the same exercise and I assure you, people were definitely getting frustrated by the process.  But it is also an eye opening and amazing exercise.  Questioning and examining who you identify as, what parts of yourself you use to construct your identity, is essential to being more empowered, more compassionate, and more joyful.

Once I got past the surface layer of identity (name, appearance, occupation, likes and dislikes) things started to get interesting.  “Who are you?”  “I’m a good friend.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who pushes himself to works hard and works a lot.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m very loving and compassionate.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone people come to for support.” etc.

Some philosophers have argued that since humans are such social creatures that we really don’t have any identity beyond who we are in relationship to other people.  And what about when we are alone?  These same philosophers say we are such social creatures that our identity when we are alone is determined by our relationship to ourselves.  They would say my answer “I’m someone who pushes himself to work hard and work a lot” points to a particular relationship I have with myself that constructs a meaningful identity.

But the exercise doesn’t stop there.

“Who are you?”  “I’m frustrated and tired and I would like some rest.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who thinks this exercise is dumb.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who thinks the world is safe.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who believes in love and peace.”  etc.

Once I got past my surface level identity (name, appearance, occupation, likes and dislikes), and once I got past my social level of identity (how do I relate to other people, how do other people relate to me, and how do I relate to myself), I then uncovered this layer of identity composed of feelings and thoughts.  For many people this is the final stop.  Western culture has consider the realm of thoughts and feelings as the most primal element of identity.

“I think therefore I am.”  Descartes planted the seed for Western culture to identify with thoughts.  You may believe that who you are is the constant stream of thoughts in your head.  You may believe that if you ceased to have a thinking mind then you’d cease to be who you are.  But I assure you that you are not your thoughts.  You are something deeper than your thoughts.

This brings us to the level of feelings, and I’ll add in here needs & values.  I am my feelings & needs.  But even this is not true.  You experience your feelings and needs.  You experience your thoughts.  But you are not your thoughts, feelings, or values.  There is a great meditation I use with many clients and students called the “Witnessing Meditation” where we just observe our thoughts, feelings and needs and see how they are in constant flux.  They are continually changing from one moment to the next, and yet there is something within each of us that is able to stay constantly observing the thoughts, feelings, and needs.

And so if your thoughts, feelings, and needs are in a constant flux, and you are able to stay constantly observing them, then it must be the case that you and I are more than our thoughts, feelings, and needs.  But then who am I?  Who are you?

“Who are you?”  “I am the one who observes all that is within me and all that is outside of me.”  “Who are you?”  “I am the container for an ongoing, ever unfolding process.”

“Who are you?”

“I am that which I am.”

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.