Who do you think I am?
Eulogies given at funerals are often interesting and sometimes surprising.
“Why didn’t I know that about her?” One might ask.
The answer is fairly simple. A eulogy is often prepared by contributions from a number of people who knew about the departed. They may discuss some quaint personal stories, accomplishments and even bits of humour which give a seemingly rounded picture of her life. But make no mistake, even if the eulogy had been pre-prepared by the deceased herself, it will only provide a glimpse of who she really was, because she will only offer information that she wishes to disclose.
Two questions come to mind: Why do others want to know about us? And why do we seem to have a need for others to know who we are?
From a humanistic perspective, others may want to know us so that trusting relationships may be formed, or unhealthy ones avoided. Finding out information about another person boils down to a matter of judgement. In some cases we immediately ‘relate’ and therefore ‘like’ an individual upon first contact. At other times the opposite is true. How does that happen? We hardly have any input for making that instantaneous judgement and yet ‒ we do. But being human, for some reason, we have a need to continue probing. If we have decided that we like the individual, then we want to look for commonalities which will further connect the bond between us. This may turn out to be a long lasting, strong attachment. Or we may come upon points we consider disturbing, which may eventually sever the initial tie. In the case where there was a negative reaction to the individual, one may want to give reason a chance rather than leave it all to an emotional reaction. Perhaps by taking the time to get to know the person better, we may conclude that the first impression was not correct. Or we may validate that indeed it was accurate.
Yet all this analyses is bogus. We do not live on an island nor in a cave, high on a mountain top. Whatever community or group we belong to, there is an unwritten expectation that we accept other members, in some measure. The premise is that we understand human beings come with all kinds of positive as well as negative characteristics. As time progresses, we find out aspects of their life, as they choose to reveal it. We get to know about them by listening.
And now to the question why do we seem to have a need for others to know about us? Simply put, I expect it is because we want to be heard; and that we believe our existence matters. I think we constantly tell some story about ourselves. From an initial introduction when we give our name, we often offer some inkling. As time progresses, we tend to give away more data, depending on who the audience might be. We have various presentation tools. The professional ‘curriculum vitae’ is a well known written document; there are those who have a need to expound this format, even during informal exchanges, in an attempt to endorse forcefully who they are. Others will have different ways to summarize what they wish to convey.
Having worked in social service programs, specifically the prevention of violence against women, I have always been of two minds concerning the disclosure of a survivor’s abuse. On the one hand, the story needs to be told by the individual first for herself and second to authorities. in order to bring justice to the situation. But, how often is it necessary for the survivor to retell her story is something that I continue to question. The reality, however, is that like the survivor, we all do in fact retell our stories, over and over again.
As a writer, I often object to readers assuming my stories and my novels are about me. I object because that somehow dismisses my creativity when I tell my tales about the human condition. All the same, I am well aware that my stories address my insights and my interpretations that I have grasped through personal experiences, interactions with others, as well as observations and judgements I have made about individuals, perspectives, theories and issues.
During my lifetime, it is inevitable that I will continue to offer bits and pieces about who I am through my writing, as do other writers. At this juncture in my life I don’ t plan to write my memoirs. Nor do I plan to have a funeral, thus no eulogy. Nor will I summarize who I am in some neat little package. If you want to know me, then you need to listen when I tell my stories. Nevertheless, regardless what I tell you, it will always be you, the listener or the reader who will interpret who you think I am.