Good morning church. Today, we continue with the book study on Jesus is the question, chapter 3, entitled “A question about identity”.
In this chapter, the author started with the question: “What is your name?”. This question is asked twice from God (or God’s representative) to a human in the following two situations. Once, it is in Genesis 32:27, when the angel asked Jacob what was his name after Jacob wrestled with him. The second time is in the gospels, in the same narration of the story of Legions. (Mark 5: 1-9 / Luke 8:26-39) When Jesus asked the demon possessed man, “What is your name?”
What is your name?
“What is your name?” is also the first question we ask of another person when we first meet them. Have you ever given thought to whether your name says anything about you? Or are we like Shakespeare’s Juliet, and think “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet). We could be named Ah Kow, Ah Seng, Ah Lian or Ah Huay and we think we would still turn out to be who we are? Do we ever wonder why is it that our parents gave us our chosen names? What were their hopes and aspirations for us, who do they wish that we will turn out to be like?
I have always been uncomfortable with my given Chinese name. My name is Ai Xin (爱心), which literally means loving heart in Chinese. This name was a cause of some minor bullying when I was young. This name evokes a sweet, kind, gentle loving girl, which is quite opposite to who others and I perceive myself, and how I project myself to be. I always joked that my parents must have known this is one characteristic that will be lacking in my life, hence they name me such that at least my name could compensate for what is missing.
When I grew older, as most people do, whether for convenience, a reflection of their faith, or as an escape of the name that we may not like so much for ourselves, I gave myself an English name, Jaime. Whether is it serendipity or providence, I chose to spell my name Jaime, which translates to mean “I love” in French. So the word love crops up in both my Chinese and English names. As this differs from the normal English version of Jamie, people often spell my name wrongly.
Whatever significance we place on our names, I am sure no one feels good when someone do not remember our names, or call us by the wrong names. When this happens, it brings into question whether the person’s sincerity in knowing us. Knowing a person’s name, and acknowledging the person by their name is a basic respect we accord to one another. We can always use the excuse that we are bad with names, or there are too many things on our mind. However, it does reflect the person’s importance and relationship to us, by whether do we even put in the effort to remember this most basic thing about the person.
But why the emphasis on names mentioned in this chapter? Because our names, though just a label, is a way that we use to identify ourselves. It is what we associate with being us, one aspect of our self identity. Asking a person “What is your name?”, is the lead in to wanting to know the person better. This differs from having a relationship with a group, like knowing you as a person following a certain faith, or an employee of a company, or an alumni from a school. It is wanting to know you, to know who you are, to know your likes and dislikes, to know your quirks and habits.
And this is how god wants to knows us. When the scripture says that god calls out each one by name, it represents a relationship that God is about to initiate with us, personally. When the relationship is one to one, there is a level of intimacy that goes deeper, and allow each party to start sharing and giving.
What is your identity?
Identity is define as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. The root word is idem, meaning the same.
So what is our identity in our relationship with God and with one another? What is the identity that we are using to live our lives? Is it by our educational standards (which schools we come from, whether are we a university graduate or not?), our economic status (the salary we earn, the numbers in our bank accounts, the postal district that we reside in, the cars we drive), our social status (how many online/offline friends do we have, who talks to us and who avoids us?), our appearance (are we attractive, are we in good physical shape, are we socially adept or awkward?). After we strip off all that defines us on the outside, are we, and will we still be the same person? Can we describe ourselves to another person without mentioning anything about the external things that are in our lives? Or do we come up blank? Do we ever take the time to contemplate the real nature of our existence; to ask the ultimate question, “Who am I?”
Why is it important to ask ourselves this question? Why can’t I just be my parents’ child, my partner’s girlfriend/boyfriend, a member/friend of FCC? Because if one day, when all these are removed from our lives, would we still know who we are? Or would we be lost, and start looking for another thing, community or person to define for us our identity. And the cycle rinse and repeat itself. If we change our identity like our clothes, as a response to external factors, we will sway in our lives, living in anxiety, and not able to find the anchor that will hold us firm through life’s uncertainty.
If we are unsure as to who we are, it is almost impossible to become self-accepting. Having clarity about who we are, gives us confidence, assure us of our acceptance of ourselves and helps us to learn to understand and accept others.
So what is the first step to knowing our identity, it is to become self aware. Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection where you deeply understand your personal thoughts, emotions, and behaviour as well as how these affect you and everyone else around. It can start as simple as taking a personality test, as the MBTI one that Pastor Miak brought some of us through in the recent leadership training sessions. Self-awareness requires more than intellectual self-examination, it also demands knowing something about our feelings.
Self awareness is a skill, it is something that must be consciously developed and constantly practiced if it is to flourish. Self awareness requires hard work, and hard truth. If you have taken enough tests, you know that test results can always be manipulated to give us the results that we think we desire. If I was looking for a job at a social service center, I will be tempted to downplay my judging aspect of my personality if I was to take the MBTI test as part of the recruitment process. But that is another way of playing the game, another way of lying to myself and to others about who I am. To be self-aware, we must practise brutal honesty to ourselves. If not, we fall into the situation where when one repeats a lie often enough, people will believe it and one will even come to believe it ourself.
So, honesty is the best policy when it comes to self awareness. We need to continually pay attention to the details of how we are being ourselves, like why we act the way we do or why we feel this particular emotion in a given situation. We must also be open-minded. This means not judging a person (ourselves included) or a situation based on personal beliefs, behaviour, or attitude. Accept people without bias and always put yourself on other people’s shoes. We can observe, and learn not to add in a subjective evaluation and label the person/event as either “good”, or “bad”.
For example, we will never be the prettier sister or cuter brother in our family, but that is ok. We may never be the smartest or most eloquent person in the room, but that is ok too. Self awareness does not mean that we do not have to change ourselves, just like accepting the grace of god does not mean that we can sit back and relax and not put in effort to become the person god calls us to be. However, it means that the reason behind our change is not because we cannot accept ourselves, but rather it is because we acknowledge that there are many things that we still have yet to learn, and that there is areas of improvement in our lives.
We can also learn about ourselves by asking ourselves what are our desires? Somehow it feels wrong talking about desire from the pulpit, unless we are being “religiously correct” and say that we desire god and god alone. However, desire is not a dirty word. What is it that we truly want in our lives? Is it the new car, the job that brings us the most money so that we may buy the best things, the vacation and the good food that we want to consume, the partner we want by our sides? These are all valid wants and desires, but is this truly what we want, or what society has taught us to want? Will our lives be a bit better, or even more perfect? Will we be happier, more contented when we have achieved all we desire to have? In Mark 10:46-52, Jesus asked the blind man “What do you want me to do for you?” He is asking what does the blind man desire. Our deep desires helps us to know what God desires for us. Knowing our desires helps us identify what we are to do, and to know who we are to become. If you would like to explore a bit more, the book “the Jesuit guide to almost everything” devotes an entire chapter on desire.
Self awareness also sometimes require the help of others. As human beings, we have so many blind spots that self-awareness may sometimes be impossible for some of us. Essentially, we are driven to maintain a particular self-image to the point where we do not notice our own failings. And this is where we as a community comes into play. We need others to tell us where our blind spots are. A good test for this practise that involves both ourselves and others is the Johari Window.
The Johari Window
The Johari Window can be looked at from many angles and provides four basic forms of the Self (the Known, Hidden, Blind, and Unknown Self).
The Known Self is what you and others see in you. This is the part that you are able to discuss freely with others. Most of the time you agree with this view you have and others have of you.
The Hidden Self is what you see in yourself but others don’t. In this part you hide things that are very private about yourself. You do not want this information to be disclosed for the reason of protection. It could also be that you may be ashamed of these areas and feel a vulnerability to having your faults and weaknesses exposed. This area equally applies to your good qualities that you don’t want to advertise to the world due to modesty.
The Blind Self is what you don’t see in yourself but others see in you. You might see yourself as an open-minded person when, in reality, people around you don’t agree. This area also works the other way. You might see yourself as a “dumb” person while others might consider you incredibly bright. Sometimes those around you might not tell you what they see because they fear offending you. It is in this area that people sometimes detect that what you say and what you do don’t match and sometimes body-language shows this mismatch.
The Unknown Self is the self that you cannot see, others can’t see it either. In this category there might be good and bad things that are not within the awareness of others and you. This might refer to untapped potential talents and skills that have yet to be explored by you, your friends, colleagues or managers.
Things we know about ourselves and others know about us.
Things we know about ourselves that others do not know.
Things others know about us that we do not know.
Things neither we nor others know about us.
Why be self aware?
Why do we need to put in all these effort just to know ourselves? What good does it do for us?
A person who is self-aware takes the drama out of her/his life. But if you love drama in your life, please forget my whole sharing, or maybe you should reflect on why do you love drama? We know what pushes our buttons and why we act or react the way we do. We think things through when the trigger happens, before we say something or do something and hurt other people’s feelings in the process.
Having a clear understanding of our thought and behaviour patterns helps us understand why people act the way they do. We are able to empathize, we are able to see through other people’s drama. Self awareness helps us learn to judge less. The less we judge ourselves, hopefully, the less we will judge others.
Self-aware helps us better deal with people who look down on us. We all faced being put down by people, sometimes by our friends, co-worker, our boss, and even by our family. If we have better insight and a truthful understanding of who and what we are, then we can easily overcome other people’s criticisms. The insults may hurt our feelings but it will neither dent our self. Sometimes, we realise that those who put other people down or talk bad about other people are more insecure and unsure of themselves. We will be able to stand up for our rights and assert ourselves with composure. We do not have to flare up whenever we feel slighted, and have no need to fixate on extracting revenge just to make ourselves feel better. A person who is self-aware can walk out and walk away from people who hurt them with his self-esteem intact. In this way, we can build stronger relationships with our family and friends.
So for today, and the days ahead, I would like to encourage all of us to practise self awareness. May we learn to listen to the quiet voice before we push it out of our mind and hearts, for we are too afraid to face it. And that as we find our identity for ourselves, to be able to strive to be of the same identity that God desires of us, as god’s beloved children.