By Tim Middleton
Two popular television advertisements play on the wonderfully ambiguous line, “Do you know who I am?” In one, the invigilator of an examination calls time and asks all the candidates to place their exam scripts on his desk at the front. One candidate who was pre-occupied with playing a game did not hear the instruction and brought his script late, resulting in the invigilator refusing to take his script with the line, “You’ve failed”. The young man politely asked the teacher if he knew who he was, to which the tired and cynical teacher replied he had absolutely no idea, whereupon the young man said, “Good” and placed his script in the middle of the pile of exam scripts and walked out. That young man was different!
In the other advertisement a businessman who was preoccupied with his own importance demanded of the flight check-in attendant “Do you know who I am?” when he did not seem to get the premium attention he felt he deserved from her. In response, the lady picked up the phone and announced publicly over the airport tannoy that there was a gentleman who did not know who he was and would anyone who could assist please go to the Information desk. The lady was different!
Such are two perfect responses to the oft-quoted question-come-statement, “Do you know who I am?” Many of us will have encountered our own incident of someone asking us that question, and usually the person asking that question believes others should know how important he considers himself to be. At other times, the question is asked in a slightly different format. Teachers and parents may be prone to say to children, “Who do you think you are?” when the child has done something which may not have been desired or expected. And of course, the child is made to wonder further about who she really is. Yet of all the thousands upon thousands of questions a child may be asked at school throughout her school career, this is the one question for which she simply must know the answer:
who am I? She will not gain any qualification by being able to answer it but it is essential for her to know who she is. It is the making, or rather the discovery, of her individuality.
The fact is many pupils do not know who they are. To make matters worse, their teachers do not really know who the pupils are (not simply meaning that they do not know their name), while parents too may not fully know and understand who their child is, as a person, as an individual, as a unique human being. Too often children are lumped together into categories. A child may be deemed to be a somebody or a nobody; either that or she is thrown together with everybody and referred to as anybody. A child is not a body; a child is a human being, a physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social being. She is not a “human doing” but a human “being”, someone who is seen to be who they are, not someone who is seen for having done something. Note too she is a human ‘being’ not a “has been”; she lives in the present, in her world, in her own precious life.
Do we know who we are? When it is not a rhetorical question, it is the most important question we can help a child answer. We need to help her to be able to explore who she is and to be able to express herself, rather than allow her to say or be what she thinks others most probably want her to say or be. A few years ago, in the hit film ‘The Greatest Showman’, the popular song entitled “This is me!” gained much traction and following. Our role as educators, be we teachers at school or parents at home, is to help each child be able to say that – this is me, this is who I am. Each child must be allowed to be who she is, a product, sure, of her background, of her genes, but ultimately of her choice. We may not think it, we may not like it, we may not want it but this is who she is.
Instead, all too often, we tell her this is who she must be, or worse, this is who she will be. We measure her by what she has achieved not by what she thinks or how she feels. The question, “Do you know who I am?” is nowadays often asked by people who think too highly of themselves, by people who think they are very important. They do not realise that, yes, they are important but so too is everyone else important. People are not better than others; they are different from others. Individuality is to be prized, developed, encouraged, promoted, honoured and rewarded. The reader does not need to know who this writer is; he is who he is. However, let it just be noted that he is not the man, described in the advertisement above, waiting at the flight check-in desk.