I’ve been thinking recently about who we are vs. what we do. When you wanna get to know a person, you ask about their hobbies and you observe their behaviour, because these give you insight into the person’s character, who the person is. So maybe what we do and who we are aren’t so different. Yet, the verbs you use to describe a person are very important.
I’m a reader vs. I read this book today, I’m a sportsman vs. I exercise regularly, I’m a cook vs. I cook. Reading is but an activity; it is something you do when you have a few hours to spare and something catches your eye. But being a reader seems to warrant something a little more – more commitment maybe, like reading is a part of your identity, a defining characteristic that you couldn’t do without. But how do you become a reader? Must you read everyday? Even weekly? Is it about frequency? Or is it about an appreciation for fictional worlds and how they are always more similar to our reality than we know? Must you read at an advanced level, understand and decode extended metaphors, before you can be called a reader? Must you read novels?
My boyfriend was recently sick and I thought to myself: I should cook a bowl of porridge or soup and bring it over, and my next immediate thought was: but I don’t cook. But then just as the thought formed in my mind, I realise how ridiculous it was. What do I mean I don’t cook? Sure I can cook. I can learn, I can Google, I can try, once I concoct something edible in the kitchen, have I not cooked? Then why was my immediate reaction ‘I don’t cook?’ And that was when I realised that saying things like ‘I’m not a reader’ or ‘I don’t cook’ is rubbish. Reading and cooking are activities that are learned, as is most of our life as human beings. As much as your personal preference for each activity is going to bleed into who you are as a person, you are not limited or defined by any of that unless you want to be. Unless. You. Want. To. Be.
I’m not talking of course about the people who have made the activities their profession – book agents or professional athletes. Those are different because when these activities become a part of your employment, they tangle into self-worth and purpose that’s very different from readers and athletes who are not trying to make it professionally.
And so I guess, it’s an important part of personal identity when we say we are readers or writers or athletes, but I also think that we shouldn’t limit ourselves because ultimately these are things we can DO, and don’t necessarily have to BE.
When I was younger, I attended this relationship management course in junior college and one of the things that actually stuck with me was what the instructors said about behaviour. When you’re angry at a person, apparently you’re not supposed to say: ‘why are you an asshole,’ but say ‘why are you behaving like such an asshole.’ And immediately the difference is clear: if you’re behaving like an asshole, you’re just exhibiting the attributes of one, but you are not intrinsically an asshole. All this works into self-identity and naturalised behaviour, and so many bigger issues come into play here, but my point was really quite simple: BE all the things you can and want to be, but also know that you don’t have to BE anything but your special screwed up self to DO stuff, even new stuff or stuff you’re bad at.