Friday, January 15, 2016

Who are You?

I am not sure where this line of reasoning will take me, but let’s start to explore the question, “Who are you?” For the past several months I have been vaguely dissatisfied with much that has been written on the topic of work as a meaningful part of life, including material I have written for this blog. There is an underlying assumption in most of it that your happiness, fulfillment, and self actualization matter. They do, but is there something that is more important? I think that if we are honest, we know that the answer is, yes. In part I have avoided the question because I am a Christian writing a Christian financial blog. While I am attempting to answer this question with my life and my faith, how can I explain it in terms that will be meaningful to readers immersed in a post-modern Western Zeitgeist that considers personal fulfillment its summum bonum?

I am not sure of the source, but I remember reading an Arab proverb that stated one man, one real man, can support sixty. I expect that this was the boast of a tribal chieftain who lived his life in order to be a blessing to his people. I am sure that if I asked him to prove it, he would show me his scars obtained in battle with neighboring tribes. His identity ultimately came from his relationship to his extended family.

Again, I don’t remember where I read the story of an outcaste Indian rickshaw driver. He was considered subhuman by his culture, yet he was a strong man, both physically and morally. When asked why at the age of 60 he was still pulling around customers in his cart, he replied his family needed him. He was the sole support of a number of family members, excluded from the life of their community by the accident of birth.

Perhaps meditation on a life such as this one led the Buddha to observe, “Birth does not make one a priest on an outcaste. Behavior makes one either a priest or an outcaste.”

Every five days or so, when I visit my father in an Alzheimer's ward, I get to see and hear who people are when everything else is gone. Some of the men are still off on a business trip or lost in the skies over Korea. Some of the women are still caring for their little children or reliving a time when they were the belle of the ball. It makes me ask the question, "When everything else is gone, who am I going to be?"

Most of us, the tribal chieftain, the outcaste, the businessman, the fighter pilot, the young mom, and the woman who understands men playing the role of the ingénue are mistaking what they are for who they are. Where does the power come from to make you a success at your job or your vocation?

What is it that ultimately makes us who we are?

I believe the answer to the question, “Who am I?” begins with our understanding of the verb covenant. When we make a promise, do we fulfill our commitment even when it is not in our rational self interest?

Whether or not we perform our vows is an answer to the question, “Who am I?”

Once we are adults we choose to enter into covenant relationships of our own free will. When we accept a job, we promise to deliver an honest day’s work for the agreed upon wage and benefits. It is a covenant relationship. When I accepted a job with the Navy, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic.

When we take a husband or a wife we make some pretty incredible promises about how we are, from this day forth, going to live our life for the welfare of another. Perhaps, it is a good thing that most humans marry at an age when they don’t really understand what the oath they have sworn before God and man actually means!

The kind of employee, the kind of spouse we become is an answer to the question, “Who am I?”

Do we routinely tell the truth and nothing but the truth (as we might attest in our courtroom vows) or are we a bit—creative. The whole truth is an entirely different issue. Do we tell the whole truth to a customer when it might save him thousands of dollars and cost us our job? Can we avoid the whole truth when it serves no useful purpose or leads to the unnecessary harm of another?

How we use words is an answer to the question, “Who am I?”

Parents are not forced by law to take vows when they conceive a child, but whether they like it or not they have entered into a covenant relationship with a sentient being they created through an act of their will. For eighteen years (in our culture) the parents are legally responsible for their child, his or her actions, and most importantly the life they model will teach the child how to answer the question, “Who am I.”

It is who he is that gives a young man the courage to face combat. It is who she is that gives a young mom the will to stay up all night caring for a sick child. It is who we are that give us our dignity, our self worth, and the integrity to say, “No.” even a great personal cost.

Perhaps, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the wrong question to ask our children.

Perhaps, a better question would be, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

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