The interviewer has his face heavily punctuated with wrinkles, his eyes dart from side to side as you walk in. With all his fingers locked in on themselves and both thumbs rubbing against each other, he doesn’t hesitate to ask,
“Who are you?”
You’re as sure as ever that he has asked every single person who appeared before him the same question, but you can understand why. So, you pour yourself out to the panel of interviewers from what your name is to everything else you think defines you. What you will never understand is why he throws the very next question after you answered the first.
“Hold on, are you who you are?”
“I said, are you who you are?”
“Ermmm, sir, can you please ask the question in a different way?”
That is a true story.
Every day, you and I and everyone else answer the question of who we are right off the top of our heads. That is more because we have always known the answer, from the smallest of details to the biggest of them. So, it gets even easier to answer that question the more times we are asked.
But we have a little argument, one that we should resolve here together.
Michel Foucault said: “I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.” I don’t want to remind you that this man was a French philosopher and a literary critic. In fact, I won’t remind you, so that we both won’t be scared of putting a red ink on his paper.
I have questions that beg for answers: Is it really possible to focus on becoming someone else when what you are right now is unknown? Can a person really not know who he is? And finally, are you who you are?
Answering the first question would not be so hard for a blind man.
“Sir, please take these three bottles of poster colors. Mix any two or all three and give me an entirely new color. I know you’re blind and you do not know what colors I have already mixed. So, tell me, sir, can you change it to a color that it was not in the beginning, without knowing what color is here right now?”
You know his answer would be ‘yes’. Oh, did I remember to mention that all three colors are white? Now, how does a blind man make another color from the combination of three whites? I do not know. When what you are right now is unknown, becoming someone else is possible.
But, can a person really not know who he is?
Let us put medical conditions aside and focus on normality. This question, I think, is very broad because it encompasses the whole idea of what a person’s identity is. But, on a very basic level, every sane person knows what his name is or what he is called. He knows what kind of things he likes and what he hates. He knows what he can and can’t do. He knows, in short, who he is.
But, with my fingers still locked in on each other, permit me to ask, “are you who you are?”
A very good number of teenagers graduate from high school every year with frequently changing decisions about what they intend to study in the university. The reason lies in that same question above.
It is without doubt that at every stage in an individual’s life, the answer to “who are you?” changes unapologetically. The change occurs so frequently that it may just have happened again, right now. For example, I have a degree in Accounting. But just before I graduated from the university, my focus had shifted, and I do not have as much enthusiasm for my profession as I had in the past. Right now, I first say “I am a writer” before adding, “oh yes, and I have a degree in accounting.”
Is this true of you?
However, we must remember that change is not optional and funny enough, an attempt to evade change is in itself an attempt to change a natural process. As Foucault said, “the main interest… is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”
The interesting truth is: no matter what we do, we can never always be as same and unchanged as the title above even when it is read from right to left.