Disclaimer: In which I speak about a very obscure generalization of the self.
A couple of months ago, I stumbled on this scene in Orhan Pamuk’s book, White Castle. One of the protagonists, an inquisitive Turkish scholar whose quest of knowledge scares his fellow citizens, asks his Christian slave: “Why am I what I am?”
It’s such a simple, but striking question. I mulled it over, and thought, “Okay, if I posed this question to myself, what would I answer?”
My thoughts immediately went to nurture– I am the way I am because of my parents– and then paused. It can’t be that simple. But still, my mind went to those safe excuses– parents, surroundings, friends, and at some level, it could just be ingrained into my being.
The question itself presented a darker side of human nature, which, while I can be honest with myself about it, I didn’t want to venture into it too deeply.
There was some satisfaction that the protagonist couldn’t get his answer either. But I think I found a satisfying answer a week later from this TEDx video title (with such cheese) What I learned from Nelson Mandela.
The speaker introduces the concept of “ubuntu”, translated to “I am, because of you.” This struck such a deep chord within me, because it makes sense. Yes, maybe you are the way you are because you just are, but our exposure to others and experiences– it’s like an added edict of how we should act thereafter. And this just blends with the rest of you, builds you up for the next experience you’ll encounter.
Of course, that still doesn’t answer specifically why I am the way am, except that, I just am.
Today you are you,
That is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is youer than you.
— Dr. Seuss