Who are you? That’s a hilarious question. Because you are someone different to everyone you meet. You are even different yous to yourself. You have the you for your Mom, and a you for your boss, and a you for your buddy and a you for your lover…. And it’s important to note that those various yous can come into complete disagreement over what you should do. This is why you can’t take your life so seriously. The thing living it is all over the place negotiating through this crazy maze called culture.
How does this manifest in real life? I will provide an example that will illuminate the crux of the point. A friend and I were recently dog-sitting two friend’s dogs. One of these dogs is possibly the most charming dog to have ever lived and it’s not just me that thinks that, it’s everyone who meets him. The other is a little bastard. We get he’s had some bad experiences in his past somewhere so we always react lovingly, but it’s not like he encourages natural bonds to be formed.
As anyone who loves animals knows, it’s impossible not to love even the jerk dog. Which was why my friend felt physically sick when he checked the back yard just in time to see the little bastard hopping through a hole in the fence that he had to be pretty darned clever just to get to.
Dogs are fast. Even chihuahuas. By the time I’m notified the dog is long gone. He calls me and I come over to strategize. I figured that the awesome dog would likely follow the same instincts as the little bastard, so I suggested we let him out the same way and see where he leads us. This is good, but we can’t find a collar for the leash even if we do find him. My dog passed away a while back, so I offered to go and get one of his collars. I was surprised to find I really didn’t want to use the collar he always wore, but there was an old faded orange rhinestoned one that was given to him so we used that.
My buddy is a strapping muscular type. Not body-builder bulbous, but more Batman-ripped. He happened to be wearing a tight t-shirt and a rather jaunty cap. As we walked along, I noticed that my rushed-out-of-the-house-in-basement-cleaning clothes included a purple shirt had faded to a dark pink, and it sort of weirdly matched the faded-orange-now-pink collar in my hand, which by juxtaposition looked like a raver’s necklace. I suddenly burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny Scott. We’ve lost a dog here.”
“I’m sorry, and I agree that it’s a serious situation. But , I couldn’t help but notice that with his collar, and how we just happened to be dressed, I’ll bet almost everyone who sees us thinks we’re a gay couple out walking our dog.”
It didn’t help that immediately after saying it, we asked a stranger if he’d seen the dog and he phrased his answer in a way where he’d clearly perceived my friend and I as an gay couple.
Now my buddy’s got lots of gay friends, but still this idea smashes directly into who he thinks he is. All of a sudden he shifts to a more manly walk. His shoulders went back and his chest flared and it all made perfect sense. In fact it’s what makes my point. He had a subconscious identity as the person he perceives as himself. When I challenged it with an alternate view, he realised it as a potential truth, and in doing so, became it for a moment before quickly realizing he wanted to return back to the steroid-ed version of himself. Three identities in a few seconds. That’s how fast you can change yous.
So do you see? There is no real you, there’s just the thing that creates yous. That’s the closest thing to a “real you.” So stop worrying about the little yous. Have fun with them! Start focusing on getting good at steering the big you. Because if you can assume more control over your thinking, you will have assumed more control over your life. And then you can do things like magically find lost chihuahuas, just like whoever those two gay guys were that found ours. 😉
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.