Monday, August 07, 2006

What Are You?

First, to those of you who are seeing this before having read/responded to the previous post: If you are interested, I’d still love to get as many responses as possible to the question, so go check out the previous post and leave a comment. However, it really should be done before reading this post, so go do that now before continuing on. It’s okay, we can all wait for you.

Ready, now? Excellent.

I was remarking to the Red Knight that I didn’t actually have a point to this post solidified in my head yet. That is, I have a lot of thoughts on this issue – this question – but I wouldn’t say I’ve come to any sort of conclusion about those thoughts. No sum-it-up sort of thesis-statement idea to tie it all together. I just have the jumbled up thoughts. I guess that would place this post squarely in the "Writing to Learn" category - as opposed to "Writing to Show Learning" - meaning that, at least in part, this post is a chance for me to work through my thoughts, and come to a better understanding of those thoughts, rather than to just present you all with pre-conceived ideas. Maybe by the end, a point will have appeared.

Okay, so, there are many things to be said here. For one, when this question is asked completely without context, most people tend to answer primarily by describing their roles in relation to other people (see both Mazurka and mom in the previous comments). This is interesting all on its own, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, there is a part of me that rails against the notion of being defined by someone or something else. I’ve talked a bit about this with regards to Mommy Bloggers – understand I mean no disrespect to any Moms out there, but there is something strange to me about being defined only as “So-and-so’s Mommy.” It’s a part of your persona, no doubt, but is it really the most significant part? But while I think this, there’s still another part of me that thinks personal relationships are the most important aspects of this life, so what better way to define myself than by those relationships? If my character, my identity, my person were completely stripped of all relationship ties, what good would I really be? What am I, then, if not a friend, a lover, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a caregiver, and, someday, a wife and mother?

Many people, you may have noticed, also chose to respond to this with some variation of “I am a human being” (J., by the way, tends to respond this way, even though he didn’t comment). This relates directly to the most common reason for asking this question. Notice that the question isn’t “Who are you?” but “What are you?” There’s a huge difference between asking someone who he/she is and what he/she is. Generally, in my (admittedly limited) experience, the latter question is seeking an answer of race and/or ethnicity, which is why the “I’m human” responses seem directly related. (As a side note, this is where gender would come in as well – it’s generally the area of physical characteristics – but gender is usually something we can see and determine without asking, so it usually doesn’t need to be explicitly stated.) I have to say, I had never encountered this question before coming to college, and once I got here, it seemed to be the only thing anyone cared about. No one seemed interested in who I was – they all wanted to know what I was. I hated that, and still do, when the question comes up.

My major problem with the question actually encompasses both of these types of responses – personal roles and physical traits. The problem is this: How do I give any one answer to this question without devaluing all the other answers? How do I define myself as anything without diminishing the worth of everything else I am? How can I possibly answer this question in a way that satisfies all the different facets of my character?

I’m not sure it’s possible, and that’s why I react so strongly when I hear this question. I think for now, J. and I have come up with the best possible response, which is fitting because it’s true. What am I?

“I’m complicated.”

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