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"What I Know, I Can Do"


Who we are changes over time. Some may deny this, but they would be wrong. I was reminded of this recently when I came across an article that, on the surface, takes umbrage with the ancient philosophical phrase of "know thyself," but also manages to go deeper and talks about how people change, yet may not fully understand that they've done so. It also questions why we do the things we do. Is it because we truly want to do them, or because it's about who we think we are, or what people like us are supposed to do? I think it could possibly be all of the above. The following passage from the article particularly stands out:

The problem is this: If we change while our self-image remains the same, then there will be a deep abyss between who we are and who we think we are. And this leads to conflict.

Leaning into these ideas a bit more, I am reminded of the evolution of understanding I've come to over the years in, first, knowing myself and, also, knowing others better. When we're young, we have this notion of who we are (even if we experiment with different hair styles, clothing, etc). At some point, we seem to think there is a sort of bedrock upon which our foundation is built, and that is who we are. And, we think, it is who we shall forever remain.

Part of the notion of having a solidified personality can also extend to those around us. When we meet someone we really like, or even fall in love with, there are of course things we wish were different about them. This is normal, because we're all human and no one is perfect. The problem is, when we're younger (or, with some folks, at any age), we often make overt attempts to change the person, to mold them into what we perceive to be their perfect version (at least for our own selfish interests). There are lots of things going on here, but one of the most important is that no one really changes because someone tells them to. It almost always ends badly.

Most people change over time, on their own, without being browbeaten into doing it. It's part of the human experience. I am not the same person I was at twenty, or thirty. Or, heck, from even a year ago. In fact, not changing as we grow older is something I am not sure is possible. Of course, there are those who will adamantly refuse to acknowledge that they have morphed over time. It is too comforting for them to believe that, not unlike Popeye the sailor, "I am what I am." Full stop.

I often see memes on social media that people post, defiant in their unwillingness to change. You can infer from the postings that people have said negative things about them. Their response is to dig-in and proudly proclaim that they are who they are, and people will need to accept who they are, or else go away. Acceptance is one thing, but it is also true that a refusal of self-analysis and acknowledgement of faults embraces a stunted growth philosophy.

It is also true that people want to be accepted for who they are, but rarely, on the face of it, accept others for who they are. Human beings have the capacity to be intellectually and emotionally complex. That is how we like to see ourselves. Others? Not so much. If we encounter others with whom we disagree, there is often a rush to judgment and, sometimes, condemnation. We want others to conform to us, not so much the reverse.

There is a satisfaction -- misguided though it may be -- in being resolute, especially when it comes to who we think we are. Even if we haven't been that person for some time. Even if we are more than just that projected block of assuredness. Introspection and empathy aren't always easy, but, by golly, they're very necessary. Not for our growth as human beings, because we do that naturally, but for understanding how and why we grow. 


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