We humans are amazingly good at identifying things. In fact, if we ever find something we can’t identify, it causes quite a stir. We can identify things on mass, at high speed and without even thinking about it. One of the great engineering challenges of our time is training a computer to drive. It’s not just that we can recognize a bicycle in a split second; we understand what cyclists do and react at speed to any change in their behaviour. Try teaching a computer that.
If we’re so good at identifying things, why do we struggle with our own identity? In fairness to ourselves, we are quite complex beings and not over keen on being put in boxes. Yet it’s more than that. For some reason, it seems to be something that really bothers us. Who cares that I can identify everything I can see if I don’t know who I am?
What are we afraid of? Do we fear that we won’t like the answer? It’s a shame if that’s holding you back, because we believe that the answer is better than you could even imagine. We’ll get to that later, but let’s look at some of our choices first.
I am what you see
Our ability to identify things at speed often means that we make judgements about each other’s identity in seconds. For most of us that judgement is made in response to what we see. If we judge others by what we see, surely I am what you see?
Many of us would feel uncomfortable with that. It seems to deny so much of what matters to us the most. Yet all around us there are images that scream “this is what I am.”
I am what I do
Some people seem particularly keen that others see what they have done, but, if we’re honest, there is a bit of that in most of us. Interestingly, we value different things: our social media performance, the speed we can run, our academic qualifications, how much alcohol we can drink, how much others laugh at our jokes, and so the list goes on.
Do we value what we’re good at or what those around us seem to think is important? It’s hard to tell – we’re complicated creatures. What we do is important, but is it really what we are?
I am what I think
Something about thinking seems to separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. There’s long been talk of us having “consciousness” or “awareness”. Needless to say, we can’t agree on what that means, but even our ability to disagree on that seems to make us different.
Could it be that thinking separates us from the rest of the universe and so makes us special? Yet there are few things that are as hidden from others as our thoughts. Is who we are to be hidden from everyone but ourselves?
I am what I was born
You may think that it’s all down to your DNA or to the environment you were born into. Either way, between them our family and the place and circumstances of our birth are so important in defining who we are.
Yet are we defined by what we were born? Is our future set for us so that we have no choice?
I am no different to anything else
We tend to see ourselves as somehow different to other objects and creatures in the Universe, but why? They’re made of the same stuff as us, just arranged differently.
It’s not very comforting to think that we might have no more value than a piece of rock or a pile of elephant’s dung, but are we just kidding ourselves? Perhaps our view of ourselves is a little inflated and knowing that we’re the same atoms arranged differently will give us some overdue humility.
I am so much more than any of the above
There’s surely truth in some of this, but each leaves an uneasy feeling. Are we talking up our value knowing that we don’t have any, or are we missing something?
Christians believe it is overwhelming the latter. We are made (somewhat imperfectly) in the image of the God that created the entire Universe. That separates us from everything else around us, but there’s something more than that.
That same God died an agonizing death to save each of us for a glorious and eternal future. It is difficult to imagine anything that would give us greater value than that.
There’s so much more we could say. If you want to know more about why you are such an amazingly, wonderful person (with a few rough bits here and there), please contact us. In case you need to hear some of that now, we’ll finish with the lyrics of a song written thousands of years ago:
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”