When directed at yourself, this is perhaps the most profound questions you can ask. “What kind of person am I?
It’s a question that has no answer like 2 + 2 has an answer; we either create our own, or adopt one given to us by society or religion. Then it’s up to us to live consistent with the answer we chose. But how do you go about answering that question? Well, by asking yourself more questions:
- Do I honour my commitments?
- Do I tell the truth?
- How do I treat people?
- What will I never do?
- Do I care about the environment ?
- What do I believe?
- Why do I believe what I believe?
- Will I admit to being wrong?
There may be hundreds of related questions and actively engaging with them will distinguish you as your own creation and free you from indoctrination.
What are you willing to fight for?
If you take the title question—exercise rather—seriously, here’s one question that I highly recommend you include “What will I fight for?”
You might ask this a different way.
- “What will be my legacy?”
- “What difference do I want to make in the world?”
- “What is my life for?”
- “What do I want to leave behind when I’m gone?”
This question confronts you with your self-interest and tests how far beyond you are willing to go.
Gandhi, Luther King and Mandela fought for equality, fairness and justice. Mother Theresa fought for the poor and disadvantaged. Al Gore is fighting to save the planet.
What you choose to fight for is what will get you to take action, to lead, to make things happen.
Most people never ask this question of themselves or of their children. Why? Because it’s a scary question that confronts you with the meaning of your life, and people are afraid their life might have no meaning. But, like I said earlier, this is not an arithmetic type question; it’s up to you to create the answer—the meaning of your life.
Your answer need not be grand
For many the answer is not grand, they’re not fighting for world peace, to end hunger, or war. For my mom it’s always been about her children. I expect it’s the same for many of you.
For some it’s their career. What you’re willing to fight for may have influenced your career path; in which case your work has meaning and more likely fulfils you even if you’re not “happy” every day at work.
The foundation of dignity
Engaging with the question “What kind of person am I?,” establishes the standards you live by, and the measure of your own integrity; and living in integrity—with your own declared standards—is the source of dignity. Living without integrity is easy and common; it manifests as unhappiness, apathy, anger, cynicism, resignation and the like. Sometimes people mask it with arrogance, but their selfishness and hypocrisy is plain to see.
The good news is that restoring or establishing personal integrity is easy; it only requires you to engage honestly with the question “What kind of person am I?”
In the introduction to his book “The Road to Character,” David Brooks distinguishes between resume virtues which we spend most of our lives burnishing, and our obituary virtues which most of us leave for others to craft when we’re gone.
Brooks further distinguishes between our outer self—the self concerned with resume virtues—and our inner Self—the Self concerned with obituary virtues—and asserts that happiness and fulfillment come from aligning both selves, both virtues.
There’s no question that mainstream education is very much focused on building our resume virtues, our outer self concerns—social,economic and political status and material things. Mainstream education places little emphasis on building our obituary virtues, our inner Self concerns—the answer to “What kind of person am I?”
No wonder many of us feel empty inside; afraid to express that emptiness for fear of losing our outer status. We don’t even know how to begin exploring our inner Self.
The starting point is asking the questions above and the sooner you begin engaging with these questions the more long-term value you’ll get from the answers you give.
I have no idea what exactly will change for you and when, but I expect the change to your inner character and strength will be profound. I wonder what the world would be like if we gave all children the encouragement and freedom to explore this question for themselves.