Who am I? That's almost like a trivial question but if you probe deeper, it has got to be one of the most important questions that a person can ask himself. Who am I? It's a question that carries deep implications on not just who a person is but who he is in relation to the world. And it is only through exercise of our fundamental option can it ever be known who a person is. A person is not a sum of all his actions but it does make up a part of him. Still, that is not all that there is to him. He is so much more than any action.
I thought of myself as some kind of a chameleon. I shifted personalities depending on whom I was with or where I was. This led to a confusion within myself. More often than not, these personalities that I shifted into are different and varied. There was the fun me. The cool me. The bad me. The good me. It was an endless array of personalities. It's almost like who I am was a buffet table, picking up whatever I wanted at that time. It split me apart. Instead of knowing more about who I am, I lost myself further on the edges. I was not who I really was, I was who I thought people wanted me to be. And since people had varied opinions, it developed a shape-shifting persona designed to cater to other people's needs. My life was such a mess. I had many friends but I was alone. I had a life but I didn't live it. I had a future but didn't want it. And I had a place to go but no direction nor purpose.
It would be pure flattery if I said being in a Philosophy class changed me but it would also be untrue if I didn’t say that it affected me and I learned and understood a few things. It was not the "thing” that set me up in the right path but it helped me along the way. It was an eye-opener and it was an affirmation of the path that I have chosen. That I was on the right track of discovering myself. Yes, I am not yet finished discovering myself. I am still on that path but there are a few things that I have learned. But now, I guess I could say that I am living my life and I have a future that I am looking forward to and I have both a direction and a purpose. These things I discovered through love. And through love, things became clear; a purpose was given and I was never the same again.
For the purpose of this paper, I would like to discuss three things that really touched and affected me. I would touch on who I am, love and the Absolute. All these things are connected obviously. And that is what I would want to write about.
So, the question. Who am I? Judging from everything I have learned, the problem with the question is not so much that there is no answer to that but the approach to the question. Some people think that the question presupposes that man can be known. That man is an object that can be known; that man can be quantified. That by knowing his body parts and his personality traits, man can be known. The approach then is not so much as who the person is but what he is. There is a difference. A huge difference between who and what. In my search on finding out who I am, what I answered was not who but the what. In effect, I treated myself as something purely objective. And I reached the wrong conclusion.
How therefore shall the question of who am I be approached? Well, it must be taken into account that a person is not something purely objective. There is subjectivity to him. In fact, every person is a subject upon himself. It must be made clear that he is not the action but it’s doer. He does not only react but he acts. But then, a person can also be the receiver of an action and he can also be stimulated to react. Here then comes the duality of the person: he is both a subject and an object. This fact cannot be separated nor can a person can be analyzed separately: either as a subject or an object. Man has to be analyzed as a whole, as a unity because man is not fully man unless there is a unity in him. Take away his subjectivity, he ceases to be what he is. Take away his objectivity, the same thing happens. So then, the question must then be approached in regards that man is an embodied subject. That he is both subject and an object.
So how to proceed to analyze man? Either the phenomenological method or the usage of the primary and secondary reflection can be utilized. The phenomenological method reduces an experience to its essence then relates it to the doer of the experience. What it does is to relate the experience from where it originated and thus caters to both the subjective and objective aspects of the relationship. Primary and secondary reflection comes hand in hand in analyzing experience. While primary reflection breaks down an experience into categories, the secondary reflection seeks to unite the fragmented pieces and see it as a whole. This is not to say that they are contradictory; only that the secondary experience does not accept the findings of the primary reflection as final. There is more to the experience than it's fragmented pieces. What both primary and secondary reflection adheres to is the totality and wholeness of the experiences. Like the phenomenological method, it caters to both subjective and objective aspects. By seeing the thing as a whole, can we truly understand it for what it is. These two methods give us a unique perspective on experiences in that the experience is examined in relation to the one experiencing it.
I think it is more apt to answer the question of who I am using the primary and secondary experience. Using this method, I categorize who I am first. I am male, 20 years old and studying at the Ateneo. I can feel emotions. I can feel pain. I feel happiness. But then we reach a stumbling block: personality. How then do I quantify my personality? A person's personality varies differently depending on who is asked. I may be cheerful to some but gloomy to others. Everybody has an opinion on who a person really is. This is so because of the fact that personality refers to how we relate to other subjects. It is how one subject perceives another subject. Plus, I have this shape shifting personality that depends on what I think people want to see. Therein lies the dilemma. We cannot simply make a survey asking who we are to other people, then collect all their opinions, find out what is common among them and deduce what we found is our personality. No, there is something more to our personality. Our personality encroaches upon being both subject and an object. It has two aspects within it that cannot be separated and analyzed. Personality must be seen as a whole and in its totality. To not do so would invalidate what our personality is.
So I stopped. I gave up trying to categorize it. I mean, really. Can we quantify it and categorize it without destroying what it means? That's why I don't believe in personality tests because it is so objective. Answer this question and the answer would reflect your personality. It doesn't make any sense. How could answering a test tell us who we are and what we are like? I am more than the sum of parts. I am more than questions filled out in a personality test. To quantify my personality based on objective aspects would make me less than who I am. I am more than the sum of my reactions and of my parts. I am so much more. My personality is a part of both my subjective and objective aspect. Thus, categorizing it in an object manner would destroy my totality and my wholeness as a person. There is unity in me and any attempt to separate this unity would reduce me. I am a subject and that makes all the difference.
My shape shifting personality is part of who I am and to deny it would be to deny myself. Think of me as a person who tries to wear masks. The masks that I wore vary depending on who I am with. Over time, I became confused between the masks that I wore and the one who is wearing it. Somewhere along the way, I lost myself. Somehow, the masks became a part of me and I cannot simply separate myself from it. The masks and the wearer become interchanged. Slowly now, I am trying to discern from the masks from the wearer. The masks are still there but there is something within me that tells me to look for the wearer. To rediscover myself and to see my real face and not just the masks that hides it.
So where do I begin? The beginning of the story is always the hardest to write. When did I begin to wear masks? When did it become necessary for me to change personalities? When did I choose that fundamental option to wear masks? I did not come up with the answers that I sought. But perhaps I came up with the answers that did matter. It was not the answer to when that I discovered. It was the answer to why. Why did I wear a mask? Why did I do it? It was because of love, albeit a twisted notion of it.
I am an only child. I had no siblings to play with. I knew loneliness at such an early age. It is at this point that I must say that I do not blame my parents for the loneliness. God bless them for everything that they have done for me. To blame them is like blaming the earth for the nourishment it gives to its children or blaming God for mankind's existence. They tried their best to make me feel that I was not alone. I do not even begin to know when to begin to repay them everything they did for me, not that they want me to. How can a small plant repay the sun and the earth? It's just one of those notions of a child thankful for a chance to exist.
Sorry for the brief interlude. Anyway, I knew loneliness at such a young age. There was this great void or emptiness inside of me that I sought to replace, utilizing different things. Cartoons when I was child then books, academics, alcohol, drugs, sex. Everything just for the sake of filling emptiness inside of me. I jumped from one thrill to another as soon as the thrill ended and I was empty once again. All I was looking for was love. And acceptance. I was so afraid of being lonely forever that loneliness became a part of me. It clothe me and embraced me in its cold arms. But I didn't want loneliness. I didn't want that void, that emptiness. So I tried my best to cater to what others expected of me. To intellectual people, I tried to play the part of a smart person engaging them in talks about new breakthroughs in science. To the people who lived for the thrill, I was the ultimate risk taker. I knew from the way I was living that I was on a road with a wall at the end. I felt that I was a car that can only go faster but lacks the brakes. The only way for me to stop was to hit the wall at the end of the road and crash and burn. I wasn't afraid of that happening. On the contrary I was looking forward to it. Maybe by stopping, the emptiness would stop too. It was the most thrilling part of my life but it was also the loneliest. Life in the fast lane was a lonely one. All for a twisted notion of love and acceptance that I craved. I yearned to be accepted and to be loved just like any other. The problem was, I took a different approach in looking for it. I was never the same since.
As much as love set me the path that lead to destruction, it was also the thing that saved me from hitting the wall, so to speak. As much as love destroyed me, it saved me as well. Say what you will about love being overrated but it saved me, as cheesy as it may sound. Love made me, unmade me and is remaking me. Love destroyed me. Love saved me.
We started off as acquaintances in high school. She was my classmate and seatmate. At first, I looked at her as just one of those people whom I will soon forget when I graduate from high school the year after. Sure, we talked and shared a few jokes but it was nothing special. It was only when a close friend of mine confessed to me that he was thinking of courting her did I realize that she was pretty. Because of my friend, I didn't mind it and just continued to do what I was doing. But something happened between them and my close friend stopped courting her. Since I felt guilty for the actions done by my friend, I comforted her and was there for her when she needed help. Eventually, we became close friends. I asked her out and she consented. That was when we started to go out regularly. It was in one of those regular get-togethers that we realized that we loved each other. We chose to be together and here we are. As of the deadline of this paper, we have been together for three years, six months, and thirteen days. And still going strong.
At first, I was afraid that it would not last. A dread filled me. Everything changes. Nothing is permanent in this world. Even man does not stop changing. He progresses over time and the only way for him to stop is to die. Death is the only end to change. However, I began to realize that this was different from my previous relationships. It's a little cliché to say that but that is how I feel. Of course, there is still that uncertainty that it may not last but it's the least of my worries. I would rather enjoy the time I spend with her than to worry about whatever the future may bring.
It was Karl Jaspers who said that in love, everything is so much more valuable. Well, it is true. Love makes you appreciate everything more. You rediscover the beauty of the sunset or the value of peace and silence. You begin to realize that life is a gift and it is such a beautiful gift. But most of all, you begin to appreciate yourself. You begin to see that if you are capable of loving then you can be capable of greater things.
It would be naïve to say that I changed because of the person that I loved but what I could say is that because of our love, I began to change. My partner did not attempt to change me but accepted me for who I was. We gave ourselves freedom to grow as individual persons. To mature and to progress. We fell in love because we liked each other for who we are and any attempt to change each other would make our love untrue. Love is giving everything that you are to a person. I gave everything that I am. But I saw that what I was then was something that I'm not proud of. It's not that she said that I was unworthy of her but rather I know that if I was to give a gift if myself to her, I needed to be a better person. So because of that, I changed. She did not demand it of me but I did it. What she did was supported my decision and encouraged me.
There is a saying about love that I really liked and it goes something like this: I know I can live without you, but I chose not to. It's simple, it's sweet but it really means a lot. It would mean that love is a choice. That the reason why we love this person is because we made a choice to open up to that person. It was our choice to reveal ourselves. It was our choice that we allowed ourselves to be loved. Destiny has nothing to do with choosing the people you love. I rather have this different view of destiny than most people. I believe that destiny does exist but it does not rule people's lives. I believe that destiny is merely an opportunity revealed but it is always up to a person's choice to determine where he goes. Love then would be for me, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, exercise of our fundamental option.
Love also entails that two persons become one but remain two. It's a bit confusing at first but I really do get what it means. Simply put, you do not lose yourself in love. There is still an existence of self even if two people love each other. That by sharing yourself to someone, you remain yourself but you become something more. It's like a Venn diagram wherein two circles overlap each other. The circles remain what they are but at the same time, the overlap between them creates something different from the two circles. As such, for a relationship to be healthy, the individuality of a person must also thrive. He must be given an opportunity to be himself. If not, then it is not love. A person does not lose himself in love but rather it enhances who he is. So, there should be a space for an individual to grow. It does not mean that because a couple is in an exclusive relationship that they should spend every moment together. It would seem a nice notion at first but if dug deeper, it would be seen that it's not right. A person must be allowed to spend time alone or with others. Spending time alone gives the person a chance to explore options. To reflect on life, death, love or anything. Spending time with other people is important, too. Man lives in a relation with other men. There is a connection. Just because a person is in a relationship does not mean that he should stop building relations with others.
As can be seen, there is a movement towards a higher value. This movement was not forced but it was something that resulted from love. I really do believe that love is a movement; that it is a progression. It is not stagnant. It does not stop at one point. A belief that love will settle down at some point is a recipe for disaster. People change. Time demands people to change. And if love doesn't keep up, it will be left behind. It's what I would associate the term “nagkasawaan”. Some couples grow tired of each other because love stopped progression. It's as if love reached a plateau and became stagnant. Love should never be left stagnant; there should be a movement towards something more valuable. Something greater than love. And that is the Absolute.
I would like to think that love gives direction but it is the absolute that gives the meaning. Love alone is not sufficient to give life meaning but it does opens up a life to the Absolute, something more than the life itself. By Absolute, I do not mean God or Allah or any other deity. The Absolute is this thing that we aspire to reach. It's something that gives meaning to life. And the Absolute is not found in a place like heaven nor is it a state like nirvana. The Absolute is something greater than my self. It is the beyond and the ground of my person. Ground because it is what drives me to go out of myself and form relations with others and horizon because it is also the meaning of my life. Thus when I ask myself the question Who am I?, I am actually asking what is the meaning of my life and that answer is deeply rooted in the Absolute.
But the question is, is the Absolute real or is it just a figment of someone's imagination? I have faith that it does. If there was no such thing as the Absolute, what would make a person reach out beyond his understanding? What would make him go out of himself and be more than he is? What would lead a person to ask the question: who am I? Faith is the only verification that the Absolute needs. We don't know it's there and we don't even know if it exists but we believe it does. We are certain that there is a greater power out there. Something that gives our life meaning.
I believe that we catch our first glimpse of the Absolute when we discover love. Not just romantic love but love in general. The reason why I emphasized romantic love was because it was the changing point of my life, not to mention that it is the most used example. Anyway, when we discover love, it gives us the opportunity to be something more than who we are. It seeks to unify and integrate our personhood so that we become something more, something outside ourselves. That's why almost all religions emphasized love. It was through love can we discover our “God” or to put simply the one which gives meaning to our lives.
Imagine a life without the Absolute. You can find a direction in love but there is no end to the road. You keep on walking and walking but to what purpose? You know you just have to keep walking but you don't know why. Eventually it gets tiring and you give up. Now, let's apply the Absolute to the example of the road. Think of the Absolute as your house at the end of the road. Love gave the direction and supplied the path. The Absolute is the house at the end. It is your destination. You walk the path with a purpose. There is a meaning in your endless trudge at the seemingly never-ending road. Yet you push on because at the end of it all, you know that there is something valuable at the end. Your home. And when you finally reach it, there is this satisfaction. A sense of fulfillment. Finally, you have come home.