A personal anecdote regarding one of life’s big questions.
Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? These are questions often found on the short list of philosophy’s big questions.
From earliest times people have wrestled with these questions, debating — throughout the centuries — the ideas of previous thinkers. Every aspect of what it means to be human has been debated. Do we have a soul? Some insist yes while others deny. Do we have free will? Most say yes, but again there are naysayers like Sam Harris who insist not.
My main point, which I will present in a minute, is that there is no fixed self, that who we are varies depending on circumstances, especially in our relation to others.
When you meet me in one setting, I may come across as an extrovert, confident and outgoing. In another setting you may find me quiet, self-conscious and even anxious.
Am I one and not the other? Is one form of myself “me” and the other “not me”? This is not to suggest that there is no real “I” or that I do not exist. I wouldn’t be typing this if I didn’t exist. But who are we precisely?
25 years ago a company I worked for conducted a two-day workshop to help us understand our Myers-Briggs personality profiles, to help us better understand ourselves and our company co-workers. I found it personally helpful with many takeaways. One of these I discovered through the following experience.
Preceding the two day off-campus workshop we were each required to answer a batch of questions which would be analyzed and used to help us understand our personality types. If you’re unfamiliar with the 16 Myers-Briggs types, you can learn more at the Myers-Briggs Foundation website and even take the indicator test.
On the first day of the workshop they pulled ten of us out of the group and had us wait in the hall. Unbeknownst to us, we were the five most extroverted and five most introverted people in the company. The facilitator came and called five of the ten into the room. I was not in this first group.
After a few minutes, the facilitator retrieved myself and the other four from the hallway. We had no idea what this was going to be about, nor had we guessed that it was…