Not just the theme to a popular US Crime Soap but a great song by The Who.
But it’s also a question that’s likely to crop up quite a lot over the next few weeks as our social activities increase over what our American cousins like to call ‘the Holidays’.
“Who are you?” is usually immediately followed by its companion question “What do you do?” to qualify the first enquiry.
What most people do is define ‘who’ you are by ‘what you do’ which includes the unasked phrase ‘for a living’.
Most people define everyone they know not by ‘who’ they actually are but by their occupation.
What do I do?
Well, I listen, I read, I watch, I think, I write, I do a bunch of mundane things that are required for what might be described as ‘survival’, and when they allow me to, I help people achieve what they want to achieve.
(More on that in the next Insight)
I could have made it easy for the questioner and said –
- I’m a writer
- I’m a student
- I’m a networker
- I help people
They would then happily extract a ‘label’ from ‘the way they see things’ and permanently attach it to me, say something non-committal like “Oh, I see” when actually they really still don’t have a clue what I do but they now think they know who I am.
My friend, the late poet Adrian Henri used to have a great response when someone gave that sort of answer. He’d say “Oh really, what’s that?” (or something similar) to attempt to get a little more information out of the person he was talking to.
Alternatively, you can respond by asking what the other person ‘does’ and instead of making an assumption and attaching a label to them, follow up with more probing questions – not as an interrogation, but to show interest in them – what they actually do, who they do it for and why they do it which leads you closer to who they really are.
So back to the original question – Who are you?
Try asking this of yourself three times placing the emphasis on a different word each time – this will help open your mind to actually answering the question.
Many books have been written on this question and there are different and sometimes opposing schools of thought about ‘who’ you and I actually ‘are’.
Enter Kipling’s six serving men –
- Who are you?
- Why are you here?,
- Why do you do what you do?
- How did you come to be here?
- When did you get here, and indeed ‘When’ are you anyway? (that’s another story!)
- And by now of course you’ll be wondering exactly Where you are!
Have a think.
How would you answer the question “Who are you?”, “Who are you really?”
And then . . .
Are you sure you are what you want to be? Why are you who you are?
Do you have a greater ‘why’? Do you want to change who you are?
I’m off to think about these questions.
How about you?