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Friday, February 25, 2011

Who Am I ?

I am always amazed at the process when I watch an episode of "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS.  People bring in their keepsakes to be appraised.  They are asking someone else to tell them what THEIR possession is worth.  This appraisal, of course, is based on the value someone else places on his or her item.  Another way of stating this is “For what price are you willing to hand over the object?” 

Can someone else establish the value of our self worth or identity?

What should we use to put a value on who we are?

Can our self-worth or our identity be sold?

George Bailey, the character immortalized by Jimmy Stewart, faced those same questions in Frank Capra’s film  classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life”.   George spends a night of drinking and acting out before he decides to throw himself off the town bridge into an ice filled river.  Apprentice Angel Clarence materializes to challenge George’s decision to end his life.   George laments that he was ever born.   Clarence provides George a possible alternative ending to his story.

GEORGE: Why am I seeing all these strange things?
CLARENCE: Don't you understand, George? It's because you were not born.
GEORGE: Then if I wasn't born, who am I?
CLARENCE: You're nobody. You have no identity.
George rapidly searches his pockets for identification, but without success.
GEORGE: What do you mean, no identity? My name's George Bailey.
CLARENCE: There is no George Bailey. You have no papers, no cards, no driver's license, no 4-F card, no insurance policy . . . .
You've been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you.

All normally cognitive humans posses that same gift, to ask and answer the questions, “Who am I and why am I here?”  The answers often get lost in the fog of everyday life.

Far too often our self-worth is based on our feelings of value from our job skills, achievements, status, rank, possessions, financial resources or our physical appearance.  Sometimes our appraisal is over valued and we become arrogant. 

Tragically, the appraisal often deteriorates when we don’t see ourselves meeting society’s criteria.  Admiration and success are fleeting and soon we seek the satisfaction of the achievements and possessions that once fed us emotionally.  Hunger is a natural and basic need.  We instinctively know how to satisfy the need, but it is not through fasting.   When we feel the emotional emptiness provided by status, money or beauty we often try to fill ourselves with more of the same.  Like treating the crash of a sugar high with more sweets the cycles become harder and harder to control.  The empty calories of another doughnut are not the solution.

Continuing the analogy, when eating a balanced diet, how much is enough?  Is more of a good thing better?

Once we are fed and clothed with a roof over our heads, more is just more.  There is nothing inherently wrong with more, but it’s still just more.  When we see our worth tied to material possessions or characteristics, beyond the basics,  we are destined to experience fear, anger or regret.  Fear that I am going to lose something I believe I “need”.  Anger that I don’t have something I feel I deserve.  Regret that I didn’t acquire or prevent the loss of something my psyche requires.

Like self worth, our identity is at great risk when it is tied to something external.  We lose control over it.  I  have heard the contemporary motorcycle culture referred to as thousands of people dressing exactly alike to be seen as radical individualists.   When identity is tied to possessions, affiliations, clothing (whether designer or grunge), position, rank or recognized beauty we are defined by things outside of ourselves.  We become identified by an object, situation, looks or possession.  Our identity becomes only as secure as these things are.   In this condition it is not hard to see how our friends, fear, anger and regret are always close by.

Even without the help of a guardian angel we can examine our lives and reflect how our family and community are affected by our presence.  If we were never born, how would these groups be transformed.  The quality of our relationships is an excellent measure of our significance in the lives of others.  In that respect our worth is easy to evaluate.

What do we want for an identity?  Hopefully, one that looks the same in the mirror as it looks to others.  What are the adjectives that we use to describe ourselves? What are the points on our moral compass that help us navigate a course that avoids fear, anger and regret?

Although I am proud to have earned the Eagle Scout Award, even a Tenderfoot is required to memorize the Boy Scout Law.

A Scout is:


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