By Rev. Dr. Enoch Kwan
It is not a thesis, but just some loose thoughts are thrown out to invite you to a reflection on the crucial topic in life: ME – who am I
First, about my name
Chinese parents followed some ancestry rule books to name their children, though this is less practiced. Parents around the world name their children with meaning and hope. Some people may derive their life direction from their names. That is a good reason for names, but why else do we need them?
We need to distinguish one person from another, even within a family, because we want to be able to address each person and even the pets individually. In a larger context, like a city or national identification system with many duplicate names, we even use a combination of codes and numbers to uniquely identify each person in place of their names. One example is the Social Insurance Number in Canada. Likewise, license plate numbers are used to identify each automobile permitted on the roads in Canada. Generic names are also helpful for distinguishing classes, responsibilities and authority structures like parents, judges, doctors, presidents, etc. I thank God and my parents that I am a person with a name, even a meaningful name. I often wondered if this is true or practiced among other animals.
So, what are your thought?
I have many new friends at the badminton court. When we first played on the courts, we did not even know each other’s names. After some time we played together, we got interested in knowing each other and would introduce ourselves to each other. By then, we have already learned about each other’s skills and styles. Many other players observe how we play badminton, which will affect each player’s reputation in our club. The accumulated knowledge about a person becomes a reputation surrounding him. The reputation of each person affects the degree of them being welcome or not to be our game partners, as well as how we play together in the games.
A person may have a reputation describing several areas of good, bad or specific characteristics. At 3 ½ old, my granddaughter has constructed a reputation concerning one part of me in her head. One day she blurted out: “Grandpa is so smart. He can fix anything”. That is a part of my reputation in little Samantha’s mind. Of course, she also knows me as an ideal and playful grandpa.
We have friends, classmates, schoolmates, sports teammates, colleagues at work and business alliances. Some of these we love, and some we raise guard for their evil influences. Each person has a particular reputation in our hearts. Each person’s reputation helps remind people of how they would handle their relationship with that person. Though a person’s reputation may vary in time and is differently perceived by different persons, there are often typical characteristics of him that everyone around him notices. It forms the person’s community reputation – for which people may say, “he is known to be like that.”
A person of good repute enjoys respect and is generally welcome by everyone. The reverse is also true. Innovative employers would investigate a person’s reputation before they make a hiring decision. Thus a wise person, and even an evil-hearted criminal, will painstakingly build and guard his reputation. A person’s value is connected with his reputation. People like to befriend persons of good repute. Being appreciated makes a person happy and feel valuable and welcomed. People with a bad reputation will experience many rejections, leading to psychological problems and even losing meaning in life. Some people with a bad reputation even seek suicide. We should carefully examine ourselves and act towards building and guarding our reputation.
Good or bad, everyone’s reputation spreads naturally. A man’s long-time good reputation is valuable to himself and contributes pride to his family, community, and even his country and humanity. Conversely, and no need to say, a person with bad or shaky fame disgraces everyone in his community.
A community with many people of good reputations will soon be known and treasured and can inspire many people. A good reputation needs to start with a noble, selfless motivation. The selfless desire to live an upright life, pursue good virtues for others’ benefit, or bring honour to your parents, your clan, or glory to God is a promising start. An ever-ready attitude to learn and ready to reflect and correct oneself are among many good ways to build a good life. A good reputation may follow, naturally, hopefully.
A good reputation is valuable to individuals and communities as others trust them. Reputable communities bring blessings, including business opportunities and admiration. They can become memorable good cultures in history as models for others, contributing towards cultivating a beautiful humanity.
Names are identities. Reputations are impressions of us in other people’s minds and hearts. Self is an operational realm within a person where one – concerning what and how he perceives, evaluates, welcomes joys and bear with sorrows, celebrates success and lament failures, processes ideas, logic, and thoughts to form his moral system and make choices for all his actions.
Glory, shame, success, failures, winning or losing, joys and sorrows pierce deep into a person’s heart—needs and drives, becoming aware of ourselves as babies separate from the environment and other people. Feelings, desires, and choices belong to me – Pains, Enjoyment, Ownership, and responsibilities of my autonomy.
SELF is a challenging yet exciting subject to write about. I will give some opening comments and let you think. I hope you find a friend to talk to.
Here are some familiar words about self, in a semi-organized order.
Self-control, Self-Discipline, Self-taught, Self-sufficient, Self-starter, Self-made, Self-built, Self-Help, Self-serve, Self-care.
Self-Confidence, Self-Respect, Self-Esteem, Self-Doubt, Self-pitty.
Self-Conceit, Self-Perception, Self-Image
Selfishness, Self-Centered, Self-Conscious, Self-Aware, Self-Abase,
Self is a tremendous enjoyable gift in life. We become aware of ourselves first when our parents give us choices. We discovered that we can say yes or even no! It was the first experience of “no” that our autonomy became real. That first “no” means a new freedom we found for separating ourselves from the suggestions of the world around us. Having the free choice is enjoyable and can be addictive. However, autonomy – the right to choose can be misunderstood and abused as our autonomy must be exercised for the common good of people around us. Otherwise, we become self-centred and selfish, causing harm to others while we claim more rights over others. Overusing one’s freedom of choice will always cause societal conflicts, including the family. Some people’s self-addiction never wears out for their whole life.
A healthy SELF does not come naturally or easily. It needs to be developed based on truth and virtue. Exposure to good guidance benefits a lot in healthy self-formation. We will experience approvals and corrections during the self-formation process in which we work out a moral framework and value systems for our reference. We learn to respect others while gaining self-confidence and learning self-love. We learn the need to balance ourselves with others around us. A warped development may cause a person to become, in some extreme cases, people who are self-centred and selfish or, to the other extreme self-forgetful and selfless. Other extremes may be so self-elevated that the person thinks he is the most extraordinary person in the world, often characterized by constantly criticizing or judging others, and on the other extreme, thinking of himself as totally useless and unworthy. Again, a healthy balance is ideal without losing the capacity to expand or shrink.
Our reputations and self-images are likely to have blind spots. Thus, no one may ever have all the truths about our lives, including ourselves. However, both self-perceptions and reputations that are closest to the truth (which we may never know) are helpful for people to relate well in society. Problems will undoubtedly arise if there is a big difference between how we see ourselves and others. It is because the actions we take because of our self-image will not be the expected behaviour by others. While we may not change how others see us, we should always try to be honestly learning about ourselves. Frequent, honest self-reflection and a clear purpose for life help us cultivate a healthy personality. Investing time, being brave to face oneself and God, and overcoming our weaknesses will always make you a better person.
It was enough said! I must leave you more space to think or discuss with your friends concerning yourself.
Who am I? What am I? Why do I exist? What is my value, and to who? Where do I come from, and where am I going?
“I” is the most critical and challenging question in life.
It is a question about LIFE itself. Yet, most people are pushed along in their daily lives to face the challenges of the economy, duties, chores and entertainment and need more time and energy to process these essential questions. Many people introduce their identity with what they have done, their job, their roles in the family or society, what they own, their relationship, their expertise or things about themselves.
“I.” It may be boring to read about me, but you may find it more interesting if you put yourself in the “I” identity in the following paragraphs.
First, I have: I had a beginning some 69 years ago and will not last too long – and will have an end for my life. I possess a certain amount of knowledge and wealth and have materials along the way. I have thoughts, wisdom and foolishness. I have many friends and possibly a few enemies. I have faults, weaknesses, guilt, good and bad memories. I have a great purpose I know (from God) concerning my life. I have lots of skills and have lots of friends whom I can serve with those skills.
Secondly, I am: I exist in this world for a time and will likely die any time. I am here on earth for God’s purpose (An inspiration for me as a small child). I am an accumulation of life experiences that teaches me as I journey. I am a contributor to many aspects of society as I consume. I am a delighted, fulfilled person. I am Chines, and I am Canadian. I was a programmer, a pastor. I became a father, a husband, a grandfather, and a friend to many people. I am a dreamer, and I am a thinker, an author, a handyman. I am proud and do feel inferior many times. I have fears, doubts and I have security at the same time. I am proud and dare not to be proud because I know I am only a humble person among the many truly great people. I am precious in my home and community, and know I am valuable to God. I am one funny character in the center and one on the fringe of a great collection of stories.
Thirdly – I know, I can, think, and believe: I know much joy and sorrow. I know about my friends. I know how to do many things. In my own life, I found my identity in God. I was privileged to receive some insight about myself as a small boy – some 60 years ago. It was a dream one afternoon at home. I remembered that dream, and it came back to remind me throughout my life. I understood clearly from that dream that God wanted to use me for His purpose. That thought helped me interpret all that I have experienced in life, all that I learned and possessed and gives meaning to all I am. I find fulfillment, joy and meaning in this journey on earth. I enjoy love and honour and dread rejection, shame and hatred. I know God loves me!
You may also know about yourself by reflecting on what you say about yourself. Do a weekly statistic on the wording and approach you talked about yourself. It is an excellent opportunity if you have never noticed or reflected on what you said.
That is enough bricks I have thrown at you. It is now a good point for me to stop and let you contribute your hidden jade on this topic. Though you may not respond to the newspaper from which you read this, you can always initiate this meaningful topic with your good friends.
Finally, I want to share a little about God Himself.
God never needed a name because He was, He is, and He will be independent of time as we know, independent of the existence of the world or universe as we know (partly), for He is the only God. God does not ever need to establish a reputation because He and His existence define all aspects of goodness. He is His Reputation and deserves the highest respect of all honour or reputation. He is the greatest ME and is self-sufficient – whatever the concept of sufficiency means to human beings. God is the Great “I AM,” as He once introduced Himself to Moses, as recorded in the Bible Exodus (3:14). God has the exclusive right to be ME-centred. Even our existence finds meaning only in Him and His purpose.
I believe God initiated the idea of creating us for His purpose. He is the ONE who shared His image and identity with us so we can build our lives to form or cultivate our personality. He does not ask questions about His “I” because He defines everything in and by Himself. It is impossible to have a meaning or purpose apart from the will of the One God. It is because of the limitations God has bound every human being in terms of knowledge capacity, longevity, vicinity, cultural contexts, etc. It is God’s purpose for us that we may find Him in seeking an answer about ourselves.
Rev. Dr. Enoch Kwan is the author of the book Cultivating a people for God. He also authored over 300 articles of faith and ministry during his pastoral ministry in Chinese and Multicultural Churches. In addition, he is the key trainer of discipleship multiplication across the continents. His book has been published in English, Bulgarian and Swahili. The book is also available in unedited format in four other languages. Many pastors and students are trained in discipleship and motivated in disciple multiplication based on the content of his book. All involved in this training show apparent joy, transformation, and advancement in their walk with God.