Sunday, June 2, 2013

Who are we? (Part II)

I want to follow up with a brief addition to my last post (May 26) in which I tried once again to raise an impossible question, this time about the mystery of the self in a lengthy, meandering essay.

What I neglected to ask is: Who am I talking to when I talk to myself?  Many others must have thought of this basic question, and thinkers in various disciplines have given many answers. It seems to me that the restless, developing part of the self talks to and questions the more permanent self.

Perhaps some of the comments of film director-producer Joss Whedon at the recent Wesleyan University commencement would shed some light on this topic from a totally different perspective.  I summarize what I read on the Internet.

Identity is something you are constantly learning, Whedon told the graduates, because it is always an area of tension and ambiguity. There is always an element of dissent in each of us; so, he said, you must be active in "understanding yourself so you can become yourself."

"If you think happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of that part of you that can never be at peace." If you accept this element of conflict at the heart of our self-understanding, things get a lot better.

An uncommonly intelligent commencement address. Whedon does not raise the issue of the true self or permanent identity, as I was trying to do, but captures the essential element of restlessness at the center of our beings. That center can be imaged as a many-faceted "immortal diamond," in the phrase used by G. M. Hopkins.

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