Am I really who I think I am?

Published 11:12 pm Saturday, February 8, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
Someone once observed that each of us has three profiles: (1) the person we believe we are, (2) the person others believe we are, and (3) the person we really are. In 1614, Miguel de Cervantes Suavedra, in Part II of his enduring parody of Don Quixote de la Mantra, a fictional character who lived in his own imaginary world of chivalry and romantic idealism, wrote, "Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world."
My own life experiences have quite convinced me that there is more than just a little Don Quixote in many of us. We live our lives believing, and behaving as if, we possess qualities of character which don't even know our first names. We do not know ourselves very well, though many of us boisterously assert that we do. If you question the accuracy of this observation, I encourage you to try this little experiment: Randomly select any two or three of your closest friends, who you know well, and challenge them to describe themselves to you. You are likely to find that your friends' introspective assessment of themselves is significantly different than your own.
Obese people often reluctantly confess that maybe they "could stand to lose a couple of pounds." Men who are totally bald often admit that they "are getting a little thin on top." Many people claim to be ten years younger than they are because, in their own opinion, they "look ten years younger." People proclaim themselves to be cheery and upbeat, when they are, in fact, just plain silly. I have never heard anyone admit to being a selfish stingygut, but I have known many who are. People born into wealth often pretend to understand the plight of poor people simply because they served food in a soup kitchen one time for the cameras while running for political office. I once met a new sales rep for the first time at an airport, who told me to look for a tall, handsome fellow with a mustache. He turned out to be a conceited little guy with bushy ear hairs, a thick Hitler-style mustache and a long strand of hair combed over his balding head from the opposite ear. Luckily, he was holding up one of my sales brochures or I would never have found him!
People are seldom who they say they are. Rich people pretend to be poor, while poor people pretend to be rich. Ignorant people often think they are smarter than they are, while some highly intelligent and educated people are self-deprecating. Many classically beautiful women think themselves ugly, while some of the ugliest women I have ever seen prance around like they are beautiful.
Can we trust our own opinion of ourselves? Well . . . , let me just say that perhaps it would do some of us good to consider what others think of us. But, then again, the opinions of others are not to be totally trusted either, for what another thinks of us often depends upon that person's personal experiences and relationship with us. A mother's children, for example, can do no wrong. A man or woman in love will often elevate and make excuses for the behavior of a beloved companion. A person who comes out on the losing end of a business deal will often accuse the other fellow of being a dishonest knave.
I spent many years believing I was a warm-hearted, benevolent fellow who was always willing to lend a helping hand to his fellow man. Then I took a psychological profile test a few years ago which described me as a Type "A" narcissist with absolutely no empathy for the feelings of others. Wow! I was shocked. After making sure that they had not mixed up my test with someone else's, I gave the matter a great deal of objective thought and concluded that the test was wrong, and so was I. I've been searching for the guy in between for many years since.
Much has been said and written about the power of positive thinking and many people have sought to improve their self-esteem by thinking and acting "as if" they are more than they really are. I believe in the power of positive thinking, but like most true principles, I believe this one is often misunderstood and misapplied. A short man cannot make himself taller by thinking he is tall. He may, however, overcome his height disadvantages by magnifying his strengths in other areas. A stupid man cannot become intelligent by simply thinking of himself as intelligent. He can, however, improve his mind by study and application. Thinking that we can think ourselves into being someone who we are not, no matter how much we believe our own lies, will make of us nothing but fools.
Truly, learning to know ourselves is a most difficult lesson which commonly lasts a lifetime. Like most other learning challenges, before we can even begin our lessons, we first need to admit that we do not already know all the answers. Those who claim to have completed this difficult lesson, who claim to fully know themselves and to be just delighted with who they believe they are, are fools. They should read and consider Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mantra. They might recognize themselves.
Lloyd Albritton publishes his commentaries in The Atmore Advance and The Fairhope Courier. He can be contacted at, or by telephone at (850)384-6676.

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