Who am I?

Post election, we find Joe Collier in an introspective mood..

I value change greatly. As I age I look back and delight in how I have and can change, and that this is still going on. Indeed I treasure this capacity. In the last three years I have lost a great deal of influence but this is of no concern to me (ten years ago I would have become very anxious). If I were now to be offered the job of being a member of a prestigious group I would decline without hesitation as nowadays any lure of ‘prestige’ would be offset by the burden of maintaining expertise. I now look forward to having grandchildren (there were no such thoughts even one year ago). I have become a student again as I devote myself to learning French so in much of my everyday life have gone from being critical to being criticised, from determining the debate to being told, and essentially from being an adult to being a child with communication difficulties. I am not concerned about the outcome of the election while years ago I would now be contemplating emigration. I am happy, I feel closer to my (adult) children, and somehow see the world as my oyster. Also, and naturally, I have also changed physically (greyer, slower, less steady, more stooping etc), but these too raise no particular concerns. And, to cap it all, one question haunts me – to what extent can we change while leaving our ‘essence’ the same?

In one sense the ‘me’ of a person changes all the time. Two years ago, I wrote something along the lines – “over any day I have been a father, a son, a doctor, a patient, a clown, an advisor, a committee member helping determined law, a guilty accusee (speeding), and so on. So, there are a multitude of “mes” any one of which can surface in a particular circumstance. Moreover, I can slip insensibly between them without a thought, and there seems to be no conflict, no crisis of identity. Whoever I am, it is always the same “me,” with those who know me able to recognise that “me”..

What then is the recognisable me? I am not the same as the infant me, and am also very different from the painfully shy, socially gauche, teenage me. I certainly changed as my children were born, with my psychoanalysis, with the life threatening illness of my wife, and following the death of my parents (my father particularly). Moreover, I could (and will) change in the future as I develop dementia, or depression or whatever. In others, the forces for change will have been that much greater, so for example a bitter divorce, the death of a child, rape, torture, emotional abuse, involvement in front-line warfare etc.  And, of course, there are the changes brought about through medicine – from deformities remedied, blemishes removed, pains relieved, to, for instance, gender reorientation – or through drugs. And with the prospect of genetic manipulation the scope for fundamental change is infinite. Nevertheless, despite all this, I strongly believe that for each of us our ‘essence’ remains the same.

So, it seems that in all of us changes are inevitable, and sometimes these will be profound. I know I have changed and want change to be always available to me, nevertheless ultimately I want to stay true to the essence of myself. In all this I am puritanically against superficial changes for trivial cosmetic reasons (how very uneasy and aghast I felt seeing the many changes of Michael Jackson’s face). I want to continue to develop but there is a lot about myself with which I am happy and would be sad to loose. And ultimately, whenever changes occur, I (the essence of me) would like to be in charge.

2 comments on “Who am I?
  1. Tom says:

    All this self-actualisation – it can sound a tad self-indulgent, don’t you think? I wonder if you are concealing a selfless ‘me’ (that modesty prevents you from talking about) – the kind of ‘me’ that cleans out the village pond or drives the old folk to hospital appointments? It would be nice to think that after a lifetime’s achievement you could still find time for the ‘common good’.

  2. Tina Bruce says:

    Joe Collier has described how I feel and think as I move towards the idea that work is going to dominate my world less, and other things will come to the fore. I am beginning to want this, partly because I am finding I just don’t have the energy I have always had, and partly because i am yearning to do things that have been squeezed out through work, such as playing the piano, however badly, and doing luxurious things like going to a matinee or lunch time concert or visiting an art gallery on a weekday. But I haven’t quite reached the stage when i can do this without guilt, and i keep putting work things in, increasingly of a voluntary nature rather than paid work. I want to stop, so that i can live more fully, and this article has made me more resolved to move further in that direction.

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