I know who I am

SUNDAY, 23 MAY 2004

A creature from outer space I am not. I make this statement because rumours of my alternative cosmic origin have been persistently going around for months now in the circles in which I sometimes show face, and suspicions are regularly whispered through clenched teeth among people who have apparently never seen one like me. The response after initial contact with the strange creature is always the same: Act courteously, but treat him with suspicion – he is not “like us”.

Yet, I am not a creature from outer space. I’m a human being, same as the characters who erroneously assume they have sufficient mental ability to formulate an opinion about me. Within my body, I have intestines and organs and attached to my body arms and legs. I have hair all over my skin, teeth in my mouth, and eyes in my head, which, I admit, view the world around me in perhaps too critical a fashion.

But a creature from outer space, I am not. Like any mortal soul I have needs that must be met. I mean, do I not eat breakfast every day? Do I not yearn for the friendly touch of another human being like all mortal beings? Am I not also sometimes in need of a protective hand? After experiencing disappointment, do I not also have need for some comfort?

No, loved ones and other interested parties, I am an enlightened individual … and if not always enlightened, certainly on my way. And that, dear readers, is just as frightening to some people as a green, jelly-dripping, five-eyed creature from another universe.

But rest assured, a being from another solar system, I am not.

I know only too well we all learn to fear what we do not understand. We all learn to treat with suspicion all that are not like us. We come up with labels and hang them figuratively around necks as we whisper behind our hands, our eyes nervously darting behind a strange figure to make sure he or she does not wander in our direction.

The presence of an enlightened individual is often a frightening experience to some people. But what is an enlightened individual? It is the person who exposes our own ignorance; also our fears, and sometimes our own intellectual shortcomings. An enlightened individual breaks the unspoken agreement that exists between a meaningful percentage of adults – if I do not know (or understand) and you do not know (or understand), then we’re both okay.

Enlightened individuals possess unique self-knowledge. They understand the motivations behind most of their own actions. They understand their desires – where they come from and what they mean. They also understand their fears, and what causes them. They understand what is behind a few of the “mysteries” of life, and they know they can never know all the secrets.

Enlightened individuals recognise their own shortcomings; they recognise their own ignorance and their own fears; and they acknowledge their own mortality. They have no reason to do otherwise, and they cannot endure the thought of betraying themselves anyway.

Enlightened individuals understand the values of the community in which they were born, and/or in which they find themselves as adults – regardless of whether they accept these values as their own or not. They also understand the institutions and conventions of this community, and the expectations that will cause one person to be accepted by the community and another rejected.

Enlightened individuals understand themselves better than any other person understands them. They also understand the context in which they live their lives better than the collective understanding of a dozen unenlightened individuals.

Is the ENLIGHTENED INDIVIDUAL, therefore, a being from a planet, light years removed from our own? One can almost feel sympathy for the ENLIGHTENED ONES if they sometimes feel like they could just as well have been strange creatures exuding a foul-smelling slime the moment someone scratches their skin. And sometimes the ENLIGHTENED has empathy for the IGNORANT when he or she avoids the former as if the words they utter are poison that could cause a slow, painful death.

Can there, at the final count, ever exist anything other than hostility between the IGNORANT and the ENLIGHTENED? Can there ever be harmony between GROUP ANIMALS, on the one hand – who cling to institutions like they’re totem poles and conventions as if they are commands from God, and, on the other hand, the ENLIGHTENED INDIVIDUAL?

I know who I am and who I want to be. The question now: where do you stand on this matter?